Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

You Really Might Be Boring Your Facebook Friends

bored at computerIs Facebook embarrassed to tell you how many people look at your cat or kid pictures?

Yes, says BuzzFeed writer Charlie Warzel. No way, says a Facebook engineer — we just don’t think regular people care about this stuff.

Here’s Facebook News Feed manager Lars Backstrom’s response to Warzel’s piece.* I approach Facebook PR very warily, but it’s entirely possible that Backstrom’s argument — if Facebook thought (normal) people wanted to see how many “views” they were racking up with their updates, Facebook would do it — is the truth, or something close to it.

But what Backstrom doesn’t do is respond to the much more interesting part of the BuzzFeed piece. That’s the part where Warzel reports on a Stanford research project that argues that most Facebook users consistently underestimate the size of the audience for their posts, by a factor of three or four.

One key theory proposed by the paper’s authors: Just because none of your pals are commenting on, liking or sharing something you wanted them to see doesn’t mean they didn’t see it. It’s entirely possible that they saw it, and didn’t care.

And it turns out that Backstrom didn’t respond to that part of Warzel’s post for a good reason. His company participated in the Stanford study — it provided Facebook log data for the research — and he’s generally okay with its results and conclusions.

“Most people are not doing a great job of estimating the size of their audience,” he says. “It’s fine that most people don’t have a sophisticated understanding of who’s seeing their posts.”

This argument doesn’t apply to users who have some sort of professional reason for people to see their stuff. Like advertisers, for instance. Or George Takei and his team of interns and freelance ghostwriters. Or Nick Bilton. That’s a different issue.

But if you’re a regular human who posts a photo of your adorable toddler, and no one has anything to say about it, don’t assume no one saw it. But do feel free to guess why they didn’t say anything.

* Nice cap-feather for BuzzFeed: They got Facebook to pen a response to one of their posts — just like they did to the New York Times!

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Wavebreakmedia)

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