Facebook, RSS, and the pony I’m apparently asking for

Time for me to complain about Facebook. Again.

This time it’s a very specific complaint that may have a solution. If there is a solution, I haven’t found it yet. If you know a good one, let me know.

My current Facebook viewing experience involves starring a lot of people as close friends, whether or not they’re actually close friends, then getting email notifications when those people update their status or upload photos. A typical email from them would look like this:

From: Facebook
Subject: $FRIEND updated eir status: This is me rambling about things as a test…
Body: $FRIEND updated eir status: This is me rambling about things as a test. This is only a test. Do not be alarmed.

Hooray! This email gives me the complete status. I don’t have to visit the Facebook site except to comment. Side note: Facebook used to let me reply to updates via email, but they removed that feature recently. Shame. That would have solved almost all my problems.

However, Facebook, like many large sites, does a lot of a/b testing to see what users actually use. One of those recent tests is to the subject line of those update emails.

I’ve seen this lately:

From: Facebook
Subject: $FRIEND updated eir status
Body: $FRIEND updated eir status: This is me rambling about things as a test. This is only a test…

The email cuts off the update in the body after so many character. This means I have to visit Facebook to view the full update.

Even worse, there’s also this:

From: Facebook
Subject: $FRIEND updated eir status
Body: Links to visit Facebook and view that status. No mention of what that update says.

I’ve been getting a lot of the latter lately but none of the first acceptable version. Grr.

So I had another idea: let’s try viewing all my notifications via RSS. I already do this to keep track of a couple of pages, in particular the NaNoWriMo page and that of my alma mater’s math department. These RSS feeds show the entire update so I don’t have to visit the Facebook site. Unfortunately the RSS feed for all your notifications doesn’t show any statuses, just that a friend updated. That doesn’t tell me any more than the emails do.

I’m making an honest attempt to keep in touch with friends who won’t come to the Twitter side, but all I want to do is view those updates without visiting the Facebook site or app. Is there a solution, or will I have to succumb to logging in?


My Facebook Experiment: Week One Breakdown

I mentioned awhile back that I planned to try using Facebook for a week. That week is now up, and the results are in. I stuck to my rule of updating my status at least once a day as well as commenting on statuses from three different people for seven days.

Here’s the breakdown.

My own statuses received 24 likes from 14 different people. Of those people, I met 5 people in high school (including one of my high school teachers), 3 from college, and 3 from NaNo. The remaining 3 are from other areas of life. I already follow 5 of these people on Twitter, meaning they probably knew about my crossposting shenanigans. These statuses also received a total of five comments from two different people (my high school French teacher and one of my good friends from high school).

I commented on statuses from blank different people. This came up to 4 people from high school, 9 people from college, 5 people from NaNo, and 2 people I know from somewhere else entirely. I follow only two of these people on Twitter. (Well, three, but the third isn’t very active.) But I did do a better job of interacting with folks I don’t already follow. One person from college also noticed I was on Facebook and commented on that. I need to get back to her about meeting up again. (Note to self: DO THAT.)

I crossposted a few of these status updates (or variations of them) from Twitter. Let’s see what happened.

(I can embed tweets. Neat.)

This tweet got one retweet and three favorites. No replies according to my Twitter analytics, though I do remember someone replying to me about sprinkles. On Facebook, the same status received five likes and no comments.

Have another notable update:

On Twitter: three retweets and ten favorites, along with a reply and (according to Twitter’s analytics) two clicks to view to individual tweet. On Facebook: four likes, zero comments.

And another set of Twitter updates that turned into one Facebook status:

This tweet got four replies, three favorites, and zero retweets.

This tweet alone got seven replies, one favorite, and five clicks to view the full tweet or photo.

Funnily, the Facebook version of these two tweets is where I got my first comment–three comments from one person and two from me in reply. Two people also happened to like this post.

One thing to keep in mind when comparing is that my Twitter following is much bigger than that of Facebook. I have somewhere around 350 Facebook friends and over 18001 Twitter followers. There is some overlap in the two groups, but not that much.

A few things I’ve gathered from this experiment:

1. My Twitter following is very heavy on books, writing, and general nerdery. Facebook, not so much. Sure, there’s some general nerdery on Facebook, but there are many more shared things, “What X are you?” quizzes, and photos (particularly of kids). Dear gods, the kids. I’m pretty sure I added multiple people from high school whose occupations are “Babyname’s Mommy”. Gag. But that’s a separate post entirely.

2. Likes are the currency for Facebook. For Twitter, I measure how amusing I am by a combination of replies, favorites, and retweets.

3. Because I’m not normally a regular Facebook user, my updates don’t show up in many people’s feeds. Compare that to Twitter and its unfiltered feed. Your tweet appears in everyone’s feeds, but not everyone on Twitter is there constantly like I am, meaning many people check in on the last few tweets and ignore what happened a long time ago. This is partly due to Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm, which determines which posts to show a user by how much they’ve interacted, This means a more popular post is more likely to show up in your feed than one from someone who updates every few months. I far prefer the unfiltered Twitter feed, even if it does feel crowded sometimes. Still, I know I’m getting all the signal and all the noise on Twitter, compared to Facebook where I get some signal, a lot of noise, and am potentially missing out on more signal for whatever reason.

4. And the big one for me: Facebook is much more difficult to skim than Twitter is. Sharing someone else’s update and uploading a photo each take up nearly an entire screen. And when that’s the bulk of the updates, I can’t skim or find the important-to-me updates effectively.

Will I continue with Facebook? I’m not sure. Less of Facebook is relevant to my interests than Twitter is, and fewer of Facebook’s interests are relevant to mine. And that’s not even getting started on Facebook’s technical practices.

But seriously, Facebook, let me hide all those kid photos and quizzes. I don’t care which of the seven dwarves I am2.

1Seriously, people, I’m not that interesting.

2Dopey, if anyone’s wondering. My high school’s French club put on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves one year, and I played Dopey. Yep.


Confession: I’m terrible at keeping in touch

Confession: I’m incredibly lazy at keeping in touch with friends.

This is for a few reasons.

One, I’m just generally bad at being the first one to reach out. Part of this is because of laziness, but there’s another small part where I don’t want to be rejected or am afraid they won’t reply or any number of other things.

Most of my friends from high school and college use Facebook as their primary social network. I do not like Facebook, much preferring Twitter. My preference stems from several reasons that go beyond the scope of this post, but my dislike of Facebook goes as far as refusing to provide regular updates of my own, even avoiding the site unless absolutely necessary.

The problem is, a lot of my friends from years past are on Facebook and only Facebook. I’d still like to keep in touch with them, but I don’t want to use Facebook to do it. This presents a problem, and now I’m trying to think of solutions.

For me, keeping in touch becomes much easier when I like the interface.

I’ve pondered a few solutions to this problem.

1) Convince them to join Twitter. Problem: This isn’t something everyone wants to do.

2) Convince them to do NaNoWriMo. Again, not something everyone wants to do (even if I do think everyone has a story to tell).

It turns out convincing my friends to change their Internet habits isn’t the best way to go about doing this. How about changing my habits?

3) Make one feed for friends (as opposed to casual acquaintances I went to school with), then read just that feed. There are a couple of problems with this. The first is that Facebook doesn’t provide RSS feeds for groups of friends. The second is that even if it did, I’ve gotten worse at checking my feeds ever since Google Reader shut down. Side note: if you know of any feed readers that are software free and beer free, let me know. I’ve been using Commafeed and haven’t gotten into it.

So RSS is apparently out of the picture. But then I realized something. I’m already reading my email all the time, and my few Facebook notifications automatically go to the trash. This is my way of filtering through emails like “So-and-so’s birthday is this week!” and “So-and-so liked your post”. Since I already get these emails, why not use them better? I added more people to my email notification list and started checking the trash folder for Facebook messages. The problem is, I never replied to them even though they were showing up in my inbox, despite Facebook letting you reply to posts via email. Oops.

But then last week I found myself brushing my teeth and wondering what a couple of high school friends were up to. Since they’re not on Twitter and don’t do NaNo, Facebook was the primary message of keeping in touch. After a little bit of anxiety over whether they’d reply or even wanted to see me, I messaged both of them. It turned out they were both in Atlanta. Yay! We set a date and time to meet up, and the rest happened last night over pizza and drinks. (And a guy hitting on me at the bar we went to. But that’s another story.)

Since that turned out well, and since I do want to keep in touch with others more, I present an experiment. I’d call it the Facebook experiment, but that’s already taken.

The Rules:

1. Each day for the next seven days (today through 31 July), comment on the posts of three different people. Likes do not count for the purpose of this experiment. Also, commenting multiple times on one status (or multiple updates for one person) does not count multiple times. The idea is that at the end of seven days, I should have reached out to 21 distinct people.

2. Update my own Facebook at least once a day for the next seven days.

Will I find myself in the lives of more people? Will more impromptu social shenanigans happen? Stay tuned.


Going through my Facebook wall

I just scrolled through my entire Facebook wall, which dates from 2005. The fact that I could scroll through all of my Facebook activity and even read most of it in a short period shows that I was never a prolific Facebook user in the first place, but my Facebook activity went down with time. A few things really stood out while scrolling through my Facebook wall.

* In the first couple of years, my wall is almost evenly split between people from high school and college. The people from high school faded out over time and got replaced with Internet friends, almost all Wrimos.

* People socialize on my wall, but they also drop by on special occasions like my birthday (just like everyone on Facebook), Pi Day, and NaNoWriMo. The reread of my Facebook wall has cemented the fact that everyone I know associates me with math and NaNoWriMo. This should be a surprise to no one.

* There is not a single mention of romance on my Facebook wall, even though romantic interests have existed in my life over the past five years. Mentions of these romantic interests exist elsewhere, but as I’ve already mentioned, I never was an active Facebook user.

Anyone wanting to browse my Facebook wall wouldn’t find out much about the past six years of my life. Here’s what they would find out.

* I like math, French, NaNoWriMo, and Script Frenzy
* I went to France in 2008
* I really don’t like using Facebook
* I did math research one summer
* I spoiled the sixth Harry Potter book for one of my fellow researchers (sorry about that)
* I founded Wikiwrimo
* I’m fond of strange Facebook updates

…along with several other things of little interest. In other words, nothing I don’t intentionally hide from people. Well, maybe the bit about spoiling the sixth Harry Potter book. This is a good sign; I never had to worry about cleaning up my Facebook profile to make myself look presentable to the professional world. But if I can browse my own Facebook history, nothing’s stopping any of my Facebook friends from looking through it. They won’t learn much about my life, but it’s the principle of the thing. They’re better off browsing my personal blog for the juicy materials.

If my friends can browse my profile, I can also browse their profiles assuming they haven’t locked me out1. This is where the fun begins. Chances are browsing their profiles will take a lot longer than browsing my own did, and I’ll probably learn a lot more about them than they’d learn about me. Those bits and pieces reveal a lot: the groups, the events, the pictures, the relationship statuses. (The only time I’ve been in a relationship on Facebook was with my at-the-time roommate as a joke. She “married” another mutual friend, and one of my wall messages reflects this.) If someone spends more than a tiny bit of time on Facebook, it’s easy to put together a picture of that person’s life, make something out of nothing, and create a person who may no longer exist due to changes over time. This is the real danger of Facebook stalking, and this is why I’m grateful I spend most of my Internet time elsewhere. Immersing yourself in the past leads only to danger.

Ten years ago, even five years ago, people worried about being blogged at their worst. Now people worry about being Facebooked in their vulnerable times, but they never worry about staying Facebooked during times of mundanity. Should this become a concern? Millions of people are connected through the site, but what happens when a friendship ends offsite? Do you let the links to that person live on, or do you take an active effort to prune them out of your life? Do you take advantage of what seems like the ephemeral nature of the Facebook feed to bury the evidence with the hope of one day burying the hatchet?

Let me know when you figure it out.

1But why would I want to? Serious question.


Any ideas for an address book manager?

Of all the things I dislike about Facebook, the site does make contacting friends easy, assuming they have an account. (Hint: They probably do.) So in my quest to delete my Facebook account I’ve been looking for a good contact management system. That’s right. I still don’t have a proper address book, and the deletion of my Facebook account may as well teach me how to do that. Here are some things I’ve been keeping in mind during my search.

* Yes, I still have a dumbphone.
* A lot of my contacts will be twenty-something women. Some of them will marry one day, and a subset of those will change their last name.
* I like alphabetical order.
* I also like paper and pen.
* I want to be able to use this thing on the go.

All the popular methods I’ve read about are geared toward storing email and toward online storage. I may not have Internet access when I need an address or phone number. On the other hand, I don’t want to rely on my phone to store phone numbers forever because of the inevitability of getting a new phone. And no, I don’t want everyone’s email in my main mail contact list because chances are I’ll never email them.

Any ideas?