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Your Facebook Edgerank exposed


/ August 18th, 2011 /

To you, that is.

Jeremy Keeshin over at thekeesh.com got curious about Facebook’s Edgerank, the algorithm used to determine which friends you interact with – and so appear most often on your news feed.

In the process he wrote a nifty little script that lets you see your own personal friend ranking.

As Jeremy writes, the results shouldn’t be too surprising, but may be embarrassing. I’d also add that they are a bit off. For example, there are two people in my top ten who I almost never interact with. I’m assuming Facebook has them high in my Edgerank because they recently posted vacation pictures that I scrolled through – so, yes, I clicked on a lot of their pages recently, but that’s an anomaly. Should Facebook infer that they are good friends?

Try it out yourself and let us know if Facebook’s results are on or off the mark for you.


Yahoo’s man+machine algorithm: the numbers are in


/ August 3rd, 2011 /

So how well does personalization work, anyway?

Over at Yahoo, according to FastCompany, quite well. Since setting up their crack personalization team in 2009, clicks on Yahoo’s “Today” box have increased 270%.

That’s saying personalization makes us four more times likely to click on a link. Whether you believe personalization makes the internet more efficient, more fractured or more mind-numbing, that’s a pretty impressive number.

For those concerned about the self-looping and fragmenting effects of the filter bubble, the good news is that Yahoo’s algorithm is not entirely human-free. Editors are in charge of curating the 50-100 versions of the “Today” module that could pop up on your Yahoo home page; the bots just guide them to which stories work best and, ultimately, which take on “Today” you’ll see.

Humans are also, thankfully, still in charge of deciding when civics trumps the bottom line:

On the day Fast Company visited, President Obama was slated to give an important speech that evening on the draw down of troops in Afghanistan.The algorithm predicted that the story on the speech would do miserably with Yahoo visitors. And indeed, according to the dashboard, it wasn’t getting many takers. But the editors still flipped the override switch, ruling that the story would be shown to all visitors to the home page at least once, irrespective of what the algorithm said. It was, and Yahoo willingly took the hit on clicks. Some stories, the editors say, everyone simply needs to see.


Personalization gets physical – and temperamental


/ June 29th, 2011 /

In the market of personalization, data is currency.

Companies like Google and Acxiom track your clicks, purchases and likes, converting them into a personal profile they can then sell to targeted advertisers.

Up until now that profile has been fairly static. What online advertisers know about you – your location, gender, purchasing preferences, favorite news sources – doesn’t change much from day to day, let alone from hour to hour. Your profile is also largely based on (semi-)conscious choices – what you click on, like, etc. – and advertisers can only infer so much about your physical and emotional state.

But that may all change in the next year or two, according to Tim Ferris, one of a growing number of “Self-quantifiers.”

Like other entrepreneurs profiled in the Financial Times this month, Ferris uses gadgets and automated spreadsheets that can track our bodies’ biorhythms, including REM cycles, calorie intake, heart beat, blood pressure, glucose levels and even vitamin deficiencies (just plunk a tracking device in your toilet bowl). Those data streams can then be combined to infer how stressed you are, when you’re drowsy and, increasingly, what mood you’re in.  It’s not about navel-gazing, though. Self-quantifiers hope to use the bio-feedback to manage attention spans at work, stress throughout the day, diet, and sleep habits. Their bio-signal patterns can also serve as red flags for oncoming illnesses.

Self-quantifying services could end up using fee-based revenue models, but more likely they’ll go the way of the cloud – offering free-ish services and making up their profits from selling data to advertisers. At least, that’s what Ferris predicts.

“I think, as soon as the next 12 or 24 months, that people will have to opt out of self-tracking, as opposed to opt in,” he says, “much like GPS and geo tagging,” a feature of smartphones that records users’ geographic location automatically for use in various consumer mobile applications.

And privacy advocates agree:

Imagining three years worth of heart rate data or depression symptoms travelling through mobile devices – potentially being offered for sale to drug or insurance companies, exploited by advertisers or hacked by cyber criminals – puts watchdog groups on alert. “What consumers need to realise is there’s a huge, huge demand for information about their activities, and the protections for the information about their activities are far, far, far less than what they think,” says Lee Tien, a privacy attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “A lot of these cloud services fall outside the federal and state privacy regimes.”

But being exploited by big pharma might not be the worst of it (assuming drug companies are trying to cure the conditions they believe you to have). Imagine if advertisers could sense when you’re hungry, angry, depressed or randy. Will they want to push products that mitigate your mood – or aggravate it? Craving carbs? Time to order in from Cinnabon. Pissed off? There’s a sale on glocks in the next county. Feeling blue? We have just the perfect pint of Ben & Jerry’s / guide to assisted suicide for you. Got an itch? Okay, you get the picture.


Facebookers’ social networks dwindling in diversity


/ June 20th, 2011 /

Pew’s latest study on the Internet got a lot of press last week, reassuring Facebook junkies (like me) that using the social network does not – as some have warned – turn us into anti-social hermits whose online “friends” are mere substitutes for real relationships. Instead, according to Pew, Facebook users not only have more close friendships than the average American, they also are more trusting of others, get more social and emotional support, and are more politically active.

Less reported in the media, however, were the study’s findings on possible filter bubble effects of Facebook. Are online social network sites (SNS) narrowing our information streams, leaving us less exposed to a diversity of views, as Eli warns?

The good news is that SNS’s are not, according to Pew, making us more close-minded. When asked whether they agreed with statements like “I believe that there are two sides to every question and I try to look at them both,” Internet and social network users were just as willing to be open-minded as other Americans. The one exception were Myspace users, who were more open-minded than any one else (theories on why are welcome in the comments section).

The possible bad news is that Facebookers’ networks have dwindled in diversity over the past few years. In 2008 SNS members, like all Internet users, had more diverse circles of friends than non-Internet users. Using socioeconomic ties as a proxy for diversity, researchers assigned SNS and web users a diversity score of 45, with non-Internet users at 31. Two years later, however, SNS users had dropped to 39, not far above non-Internet users whose diversity ratings had risen to 38 (all Internet users were still up at 43). (See page vi for the numbers.)

Does that mean Facebook is making our social circles more homogeneous? It would be rash to leap to that conclusion. For one thing, the shift in diversity among Facebook users’ networks could be explained by a change in demographics over the past two years. (The study teased out the influence of age, education, etc. for the 2010 numbers (see page x), but not for 2008 so it’s impossible to tell.) The results should, however, make us puzzle – if not be outright concerned.  At best we can say that, unlike using the Internet as a whole,  spending time on Facebook does not diversify our lives. The question still remains if, at worst, it is making them more narrow.


Visualize your filter bubble


/ June 16th, 2011 /

If you have not yet been tempted by your Facebook friends, let me invite you to enter the creepy, narcissistic world of the Museum of Me.

Intel’s clever marketing team has created a visual experience that, after sucking in your friend network, posts and likes from Facebook, lets you walk through galleries of your life.

If you can stomach the solipsism, wait til you arrive at the final gallery, which morphs into – yes – a bubble of all your chattering friends with you right at the center.

If, however, that sounds like too much navel gazing, here’s the clip from some guy Steven’s museum:


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