Category Archives: Featured

True Story: Facebook Tried To Control Your Emotions By Manipulating Your News Feed

1984As if you don’t have enough reasons to distrust Facebook, here’s one more: They intentionally manipulated the positive and negative content of users’ News Feed to see if they could affect and manipulate the emotions of those users. Wow.

There is a lot of coverage about this story on the web, but here’s the very short version of the official paper: In 2012, Facebook analyzed the posts in the News Feed of about 700,000 users for one week, and slightly increased or decreased which stories appeared, based on whether posts were “positive” or “negative”. Then they measured posts made by the people whose news Feed they had manipulated, to see if the slightly more positive or negative posts in their feed made them post more positive or negative content.

Can the positivity or negativity of posts on Facebook affect whether your posts become positive or negative? Apparently, according to the study: Yes.

Creepy. Not just the results, but the fact that Facebook would even do a study like this. Right?

Many sites have pointed out potential ethical issues in this experiment, questioned whether informed consent should have been required, and asked if a site like Facebook should be doing experiments like this at all. Here is my take on what matters in this latest Facebook PR mess:

It’s Probably Not That Bad. Kind Of.

As Adam Kramer (one of the study authors) points out in a public post, the actual user impact of this was probably pretty insignificant. It’s highly unlikely that anyone suffered emotional trauma or was truly negatively affected. It was a relatively small sample, over a short period, and the level of manipulation was very small. In my personal opinion, some people are inflating the significance of the actual impact of the study and its emotional effects on users. The actual study itself seems fairly harmless, really.

However, the important points to remember and consider are:

Facebook Dictates What You See

Facebook decides what you do and don’t see from your friends, family, and Pages you are interested in. True, you give them that power by clicking a checkbox when you sign up. But is it really working for you? Do you like it that way? Are you comfortable with Facebook deciding what you do and don’t see?

Most users want a simple, unfiltered, chronological News Feed so they can browse through and see everything. But Facebook doesn’t want you to have that. A big part of the reason is so they can charge money to businesses that want to make sure their posts appear. But another reason is so they can run experiments like this and others to figure out how people behave. Facebook is the experiment, and you are the lab rat. When you think of it that way, it’s kind of less fun, isn’t it?

A Slippery Slope To “Censorship”?

Facebook says it wants to show you the “highest quality” content, and the posts you are most interested in. But it doesn’t let you decide what is important. It doesn’t even let you have a vote. It attempts to derive your interest by spying on everything you do – down to the level of watching where your mouse moves, when you stop scrolling, and which links you click on. Even if you never Like or Comment on anything, Facebook is watching you closely to figure out how to sell advertising to you.

Recently Facebook announced that it determined “meme pictures” were low quality content, and they would appear less often. What about people who love memes? Do they get a vote?

March forward a few years, and what will Facebook be determining is “low quality” content? Posts containing a religious message? Posts containing anti-war sentiments? Posts criticizing the government? Posts about controversial topics like abortion? Posts about an obscure hobby you enjoy? Posts about topics you are interested in but aren’t mainstream?

Facebook has demonstrated the very subtle ability to manipulate how people feel and behave by changing what they are exposed to. It’s not a huge leap to imagine them pushing a political, social, religious, or cultural agenda and affecting public thought by manipulating what the Billion+ people using the site see every day.

It’s like a huge, worldwide, interactive TV broadcast, and the only people in charge of what content you see is Facebook themselves. Are you comfortable with this level of influence? Are we giving them too much influence in our life? I put “censorship” in quotes on purpose because this isn’t the government restricting free speech, and everyone is free to use Facebook or not. But they are limiting what you see, and you may not even realize it.

Conclusion: Understand The Product You Are Using

In the end, Facebook is a very useful and entertaining service, but because it has such an overwhelming influence on people and is so dominant on the web, it’s important that users understand what they are using and how it could work against them.

Understand that you are not seeing everything you could see, and that Facebook is deciding what it thinks you should see. An unknown algorithm is ranking content and controlling what you are exposed to on a daily basis. If you don’t like that, you should speak up. Facebook makes money by advertising to users. If you get sick of the site and leave, they will lose money. It’s in their best financial interest to keep you. In theory.

Understand that you are not the customer, you are the product being sold. Your eyeballs are being sold to advertisers for the highest bid, and Facebook’s primary focus is to know as much about you as they can so they can serve you the best ads that you might click on. Perhaps their goal is to not just learn things about you, but to influence what you think, how you feel, and what products you like, so it can turn you over to companies who will gladly take your money. If they can slightly manipulate emotions, who is to say that they won’t slightly influence public sentiment in favor of a brand that is a big advertiser with them?

Finally, Understand that Social Media can have an impact on how you feel about the world and yourself, even if they aren’t manipulating the news feed. Be careful with how you use it, and the power that you give it in your life.

What Do You Think?

Did Facebook go too far? Does this creep you out, or could you not care less? Comment here or on this post on Facebook and let your opinion be heard.

-- Matt Kruse, developer of Social Fixer, a browser extension that makes Facebook better.

Posted in Featured | 676 Comments

11 Features Facebook Should Add (But Probably Never Will)

11_facebook_featuresFacebook does a lot, but there are many basic features it lacks. Here are 11 features I wish Facebook would add that would make the site much better, in the order I want them. #1: An unfiltered, Chronological News Feed!

Disclaimer: I am the author of Social Fixer, a popular browser extension that fixes many of the user interface annoyances of Facebook, and enhances the site with many tweaks. So I am kind of a “power user” of the site, and some of the features below are things I try to offer. But Social Fixer can’t do everything, including many of the things on the list here.

1. Unfiltered, Chronological News Feed

Most people want this, but Facebook won’t let us have it. Most people know that many stories from their friends are hidden from their news feed. Facebook decides what it thinks you should see and what it thinks you wouldn’t be interested in. But what most people want is just a stream of posts, with nothing filtered out. Facebook says the reason they don’t offer this is because users would be overwhelmed, but the obvious real reason is because if they didn’t limit what you saw, they couldn’t charge Pages and users to “boost” their post to make it show up in feeds. They manufacture an artificial problem, then charge money to fix it. They profit by making the site less usable. Genius.

2. Passive Friend Requests

imageSending a friend request can sometimes be awkward. Are you being too forward? Will they be like, “I barely knew him in High School, why is he friend requesting me?!” Facebook should fix this by offering “passive” friend requests. It works like this:

You indicate that you would like to be friends with someone, but no message is sent, no notification triggered. They don’t know you did anything. Then, if they also do the same, you become friends. If the feeling is mutual, you both connect without the awkwardness of someone fearing that they are being pushy by sending a friend request. If it’s not mutual, nothing happens, and no one ever knows. Much better, right?

3. Mark Posts as "Read"

Imagine Gmail if you could never archive emails. Every time you opened your email, you would see the same things you saw yesterday, even though you’ve already read them and replied.

Facebook needs a way to say “I’ve already read these posts, don’t show them to me anymore, I’m done with them!” They should disappear from your news feed both on desktop and mobile, but still be viewable if you choose “All Posts”. Social Fixer offers this feature (this one feature was the one driving force behind the creation of the extension originally) but it would be so much better if Facebook would build it into the product.

(p.s. – Yes, I know you can “Hide” posts and they will disappear. But this isn’t the same, because you can’t get them back, and because the hide action tells Facebook you weren’t interested in the post, and they should show you fewer posts like it, which usually isn’t what you intend!)

4. Filter Posts By Keyword, User, Type, etc.

20110126filter2[1]I don’t want to see any post about certain topics. Ever. Maybe you don’t want to see anything about the World Cup. Maybe you haven’t caught up yet on Breaking Bad and don’t want to see any spoilers. Everyone probably has a list of things they just don’t care to ever read about.

Facebook should allow users to filter their news feed by keyword, user, post type, etc. Right now the only control we have is to unfollow friends or Pages, which isn’t the granularity we need. I want entire topics hidden from me, because I don’t care to ever see them.

Social Fixer offers the ability to filter posts in your feed by keyword, post type, author, etc. It can hide the posts, change how they appear, or move them into tabs. But it only works on posts you see on desktop. Filtering should be built into Facebook on the server side, so it works everywhere. But they don’t even like the idea of filtering, because in the past they have tried to force me to remove it as a feature.

5. Turn Off Comments / Likes on Posts

Sometimes a comment thread goes south, particularly in Groups or Pages. You just want to say “NO MORE COMMENTS!” and stop it, but you can’t. People continue arguing and posting, and there isn’t any way to stop them. There needs to be.

Or have you ever posted about a thought or event, perhaps something sad, just to share with others but not necessarily seeking out endless “so sorry to hear that” or other messages that almost demand your acknowledgment? The ability to turn off Likes and Comments from the start would let people know that a response isn’t needed, whether it be about you having a bad day or a picture of your dinner.

6. Message Filtering And Mass Delete

imageI get a lot of junk Messages in my “Other” inbox on Facebook. At least 50 a day, usually more. The UI for reading and cleaning out the list of messages is horrible, with no way to select a bunch of messages and delete them all. This is really inconvenient. It’s so painful to delete all this junk mail that I usually just don’t, so I end up missing some real messages.

Even better would be a way to setup message filters, just like Gmail filters. Let me kick most of the messages to the trash before I ever see them, based on a few simple keyword filters. That would save me a lot of time.

(Yes, that’s my actual “Other” inbox. I get TONS of junk mail every day.)

7. "Saved" Posts

imageWhen I see a link posted on my phone, I want to save it to read later on my desktop. Or if I’m on the desktop and see posts I want to come back later, there is no way to tag these posts as being something I want to save for later. This would be very convenient!

Social Fixer offers a way to send links and posts to Pocket, a popular content-saving site/app that works very well. But it doesn’t work on mobile, and doesn’t save the content within Facebook itself. Facebook should have a built-in way to save posts for later.

8. Searchable History

I want to search my entire post history and everything that has appeared in my news feed by keyword. I’m sure this would be a monumental technical challenge from the Facebook development side, but if Google can index the entire web, can’t Facebook just let me find that post I saw from Bobby last week about Black Holes?

9. Tell Me When I Am Unfriended

unfriendOooh, what a “controversial” feature! Facebook doesn’t want you to know who unfriends you, as I explained a while ago in a blog post. They actually forced me to remove this feature from Social Fixer, because they say it creates a “negative user experience”.

But there are actually a number of valid reasons for wanting to know when someone disconnects from you, and I don’t think it’s any of Facebook’s business if I or anyone else wants to know when it happens.

If they can tell me in my news feed that Friend X posted a personal message on Friend Y’s wall, which I couldn’t possibly care less about, I don’t see why they can’t tell me when a friend I’ve been connected to for years drops off the Facebook Planet.

10. Temporary "Mute" For Friends

imageSometimes friends get really annoying for a short period of time. Maybe it’s 50 posts about their amazing life-changing vacation, or public love notes to their spouse around their anniversary, or 5 pictures a day of their new cat. It doesn’t matter. We’ve all seen it.

Facebook should allow me to temporarily “mute” a friend for a while, so I see nothing from them in my news feed. Then, after a few days or a week or whatever, they show back up and hopefully have moved on to a new topic. This sure beats unfollowing them completely, then forgetting to add them back and feeling awkward when they ask if you saw the post they made about their cat dying. Oops.

11. Photo Tag Approval White-List

This seems relatively minor compared to the others, but I want the ability to white list a group of people whose photo tags I automatically accept. If my wife, daughter, or parents post a picture and tag me in it, I want to always accept that. But anyone else? I want to approve that. I wish Facebook would give me the ability to set that up.

What Is Your Wish?

I’d like to hear your thoughts. Reply to THIS POST on Facebook by adding a comment and let your voice be heard.

And if you aren’t a user of Social Fixer, be sure you give it a try. It may not be able to do some of the things above, but it can do a lot of other things!

-- Matt Kruse, user-advocate and developer of Social Fixer

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Social Fixer 10.1 Fixes News Feed “More Stories” Bug

logo_detailed_2005Version 10.1 of Social Fixer fixes a bug (caused by a Facebook code change) which prevented more stories from being loaded into the news feed.

download55
Install the 10.1 update by going to SocialFixer.com

What's Fixed

A code change by Facebook caused the News Feed to stop loading more posts when scrolled to the bottom, and clicking “More Stories” did not work. I have also added a new option at the top of the “Advanced” tab of Social Fixer options to completely disable its handling of the More Stories loading, in case this happens again. You should never need to use it. It’s there as a safety valve, just in case something like this happens again.

A TECHNICAL EXPLANATION

If you’re curious about exactly what the problem is and why Social Fixer controls the post loading, read on. If not, you can ignore the rest. Smile 

Facebook automatically loads more posts into the news feed when you scroll to the bottom of the page. Or, more accurately, whenever the little “More Stories” box at the bottom is visible on the screen.

The problem is that Social Fixer allows you to hide posts using filters or marking them as read, or to move them to tabs. So sometimes, the news feed may actually appear without any posts, causing the “More Stories” box to push to the top. This causes Facebook to think it needs to load more stories. Facebook never expects the news feed to be empty, so it doesn’t even handle this case correctly!

This could lead to a big loop of Facebook trying to load more stories. As it pulls more in and they are hidden or tabbed, the More Stories box is still visible, so it loads even more stories, sometimes locking up your browser as it loads potentially hundreds of posts. Facebook just doesn’t know how to behave when the news feed doesn’t have any visible posts in it.

So, I hook into their post loading code and put in some control. I only let them load 5 pages of more stories before I stop the process and put up a message in the footer saying that Social Fixer has stopped the loading of more stories. You can click on the More Stories link to load another 5 pages if you wish. But I put that stopper in there to prevent people from having their browser lock up, which is a result of Facebook’s code not knowing what to do when Social Fixer manipulates the news feed.

THE JAVASCRIPT DETAILS

For anyone who really wants the dirty explanation, here it is! This is Facebook’s code that triggers a More Stories load, in LitestandStreamLoader.attachNewPager():

function (wb){ya&&z.dedupeHide(s.getStreamRoot(),s.getStoriesSelector(),va);this.loadMoreUnseenStoriesIfNeeded();ia=wb;ia&&mb(false);}

See “this.load…”? That’s the problem. It’s referencing itself to call another method on itself, which it didn’t do before. When I called this function from my code, I just did:

_attachNewPager(gb);

So, “this” didn’t hold the right value. The fix is to call it like this:

_attachNewPager.call(LitestandStreamLoader,gb);

Now, the “this” value is correct, and their internal code fires correctly. This is something I should have coded correctly to begin with, but because their code didn’t require it before I didn’t notice it.

Questions? Problems? Need Support?

The Support Team and the Social Fixer user community can help you out in the Social Fixer Support Group, located here: http://SocialFixer.com/support/

Please, Donate to support development!

-- Matt Kruse, developer of Social Fixer

Posted in Featured, Release Notes | Comments Off

Social Fixer 10.0 Now Available–Bug Fixes And More!

logo_detailed_200Version 10.0 of Social Fixer resolves many problems that have been caused by Facebook’s constant tinkering with its site. This release should give you back control of your Facebook experience! 

download5
Install the 10.0 update by going to SocialFixer.com

What's Fixed

  • Chat options should now work correctly again.
  • Auto-tabbing and filtering by Apps and Games works again, and 150+ of the most popular apps and games have been added to the auto-known list.
  • You can now hide the following, by hovering over them and clicking the “x” in the upper right:
    • Trending” box on the right
    • The prompt at the top of the news feed asking you to switch back to Top Stories
    • Related Links” that appear after clicking on a story in the News Feed
  • Posts in Groups were not being processed/filtered correctly, and the action icons like “Mark Read” were not available.
  • Improved auto-switching from Top Stories to Most Recent news feed.
  • Improved picture previews in the news feed when hovering over
  • The “Missing Posts” problem should no longer be an issue. (Where Social Fixer would tell you there are posts in a tab, but you’d click on it and nothing would be there, or posts would disappear in front of your eyes).
  • The pinned post in the Social Fixer User Support group renders distinctly again and extra support information can be added to posted questions.
  • Improved anonymizing of “ticker” content (though still not perfect)
  • Fixed the “Google It” button’s ability to find the content of posts
  • Fixed the “Save for Later” button on posts. (It’s not pretty, but it works.)
  • Fixed the “requireLazy” errors that appeared for some users

What's New

  • New Option (Notifications tab): “Open Messages from dropdown in full window rather than chat popup”. When clicking messages from the top bar dropdown, they will no longer open in an annoying little chat box.
  • Add a “Sort By Last Name” button to the Friends tab of personal profiles.

Questions? Problems? Need Support?

The Support Team and the Social Fixer user community can help you out in the Social Fixer Support Group, located here: http://SocialFixer.com/support/

Please, Donate to support development!

-- Matt Kruse, developer of Social Fixer

Posted in Featured, Release Notes | Comments Off

3 Reasons Why Social Fixer Hasn’t Been Updated Lately

3reasonsIf you use Social Fixer, you have probably noticed that some features no longer work correctly. So, why hasn’t it been updated lately to fix these problems? I’ll give you three reasons…

1. Family First

I’ve always said that my family and kids are my #1 priority, and I often measure my commitment to that principle by the decisions I actually make. As it turns out, the last few months have been incredibly busy for my family. Whether it’s weekend volleyball tournaments, track practices, or playing Frozen for the thousandth time, I try to do the things that are best for my family first, and work on my personal projects in whatever time is left. Since life has been busier than usual for a while, I’ve had less free time left to work on my side stuff.

And when I do have time, it’s often late at night and I’ve just found myself more exhausted than I’ve been in the past. So I just haven’t had the energy to stay up until 2am and sleep 4 hours before work. Maybe this is just what it feels like to be 40?! Smile 

2. Facebook Code Changes

Facebook has changed a lot of its code with the latest update to the News Feed. Many of the page structures I used to hook into are changed or gone. Some of the components that used to control how the page worked have been changed. Some of the code that I used to access is now re-written to be hidden from me. Some meaningful names in the source like “intentional_stream” have been replaced with names like “_5qpr”.

It takes much longer to dig through their code than it used to. It’s written in a way that is forcing me to re-think what features I can even offer, and consider new ways of hooking into their source. Their changes have made my code more fragile.

Also, there is even more inconsistency between what users see. Some see the new feed, some don’t. Some have certain ads in their news feed, others don’t. Some see the class names on stories as “_qp5h” and some see them as “_3bpe”. So if I fix features to work with what I see, there is no guarantee that the code will work for others. That really impedes my ability to write code that works for everyone.

Facebook’s code has become an even more chaotic mess, from my perspective. I’m sure that on their end it’s organized and pre-processed. But what we see as users is a big jumbled mess of code that often doesn’t make any sense. I don’t know if some of these changes are in direct response to extensions like Social Fixer, but it sure feels like it. They have done a great job of making it really, really hard to keep Social Fixer working. That is really frustrating.

3. I’m Losing Interest In Facebook

Personally, I have found that my interest in Facebook is fading. I know that many other people feel the same way. I feel that many of their changes are completely anti-user, and they are making the experience worse and worse.

The site has always been primarily focused on harvesting personal information in order to sell targeted ads. But lately, I feel like this has become even more blatant. It feels like many changes and new features are intended only to fuel their advertising engine and raise their stock price, not benefit users or make the site better or easier to use.

So, I’ve found myself actually using Facebook less and less. Since I’m not as actively involved in it, I find fewer annoyances I want to tweak, and fewer features I want to add. This, combined with the increasing difficulty of actually coding those tweaks, means that some of the “fun” of working on Social Fixer has gone.

But An Update Is Coming…

With all that being said, I have found time recently to start making changes. I’ve already fixed a few bugs and updated code to get some features working again. I hope to have an update ready in the next few weeks. I have definitely not given up, and work on Social Fixer will continue!

A big part of the reason why I come back to this and work on it is because so many people have supported me and been generous with donations, sharing Social Fixer with friends, and creating a really cool community.

So thanks again for the support and patience, and expect an update with fixes and improvements soon! Smile

-- Matt Kruse, developer of Social Fixer

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Social Fixer Does Not Insert Ad-Ware, Track You, Or Spy On You… And Never Will. Integrity Matters.

me_200Recent reports have created buzz about browser extensions and the fact that they may be spying on you or inserting ads. I would like to be very clear: Social Fixer is completely safe and will never insert ads, track you, or spy on you. Ever.

In posts by Ars Technica (who previously wrote an article about me), How-To Geek, and Lifehacker, the sites explain how browser extensions can have code in them that may insert advertising, track you on the web, spy on your form submissions, or do other things you aren’t aware of.

What makes this especially scary is that most extensions update automatically. So an extension that is safe today may not be safe tomorrow, and the new code will be added to your computer without you being asked.

Here’s the real risk: Extension authors are increasingly being approached by others to sell their extensions and transfer ownership. Once these new people own the extension, they add in the malicious code and post an update, which gets pushed to all users’ computers automatically. They have instantly gained thousands of victims, who have no idea that anything has changed. Anti-virus and anti-spyware apps won’t detect it. Users may see the effects but have no idea what caused it. Or even worse, they may have their privacy breached and have no clue at all.

This is a serious issue, so I want to be very clear:

SOCIAL FIXER DOES NOT AND WILL NEVER:
• Insert advertising on any sites you visit
• Track you anywhere on the web
• Send personal data back to its servers about you or what you are looking at
• Spy on you in any way
• Do anything that is not in the best interest of its users

This Issue Is Old News To Me

  • In 2011 I was asked to sell another single-purpose Facebook extension I threw together in a few hours. I wrote about it on Google Groups. I could tell it was suspicious, so I exposed it and turned down $700 in easy cash.
  • I’ve been approach numerous times by people who want to monetize Social Fixer by inserting ads or user tracking. I always say no. I have written about this in a blog post: Why I Do Not Monetize Social Fixer or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Donation
  • I am no fool about the potential value of my user base. With over a million users - all active users of Facebook – my extension is exactly what the trackers and adware peddlers want. And they would probably be willing to pay good money for it.

I could “cash out” and make some sweet cash. But…

Integrity Matters!

I am an honest person, and my most valuable resource is my integrity. If I do eventually stop working on Social Fixer, I will want all my users to follow me to my next project, whatever it is.
I want to have a positive influence on others, and on the web.
I want to do what is right by users, and be respected for what I offer to the world.
I want people to value it so much that they reward me for my work by choice, and spread it to others because it is so valuable to them, not because my app spammed their wall on their behalf or tricked them with adware.

I’ve been on the internet for a long time, and you can probably look up much of what I’ve done. My reputation is solid, and I hope that I’ve never made decisions that harm others for my own personal gain. I think that so many people trust Social Fixer because of my character and history of being someone you can fully trust. That matters a lot to me.

It’s not always easy to take the high road. I’d love to get a big cash payout, pay off my house and cars, take my family to Disney World, and take a few years off work! I work really hard so some of those things can happen. But I will never do wrong by others or take advantage of them to get there.

So here’s my suggestion to everyone out there who uses browser extensions, or any other software, or who consumes and appreciates the content created by others:

Reward The Content Creators

Be willing to financially support the people who create the software you use, not because you have to but because it’s valuable to you. Make it financially rewarding to respect your privacy and security. Give them the incentive to decline the fast buck and do what is best for users.

I take donations to support Social Fixer. [Here’s the link to donate]. Sometimes I feel guilty about it, but honestly, only about 1-2% of users ever donate anyway. But the truth is, it takes many hours of work to create an extension like this. Once the fun creative part is done, it’s countless hours of debugging, support, testing, writing documentation, etc. It’s like a job, and a lot of the time it’s really not “fun” work at all. It’s exhausting.

I do it because I enjoy writing cool software that is helpful to a lot of people. But honestly, if the donations were to dry up completely, I would probably stop working on it. The only way I can justify spending many hours a week away from my family or sacrificing sleep is if it helps pay for a family vacation or to cover some car repairs. I am not a robot.

Support the people who create the things you love (whether it be software, art, music, writing, or any other creative venture). Otherwise, you may one day find that you’ve paid for it in a different way – through your privacy, security, or personal data.

Be Careful

As a general recommendation, be very cautious about any browser extensions you install. Not every developer has good intentions. Read the reviews, check on the person or company who is distributing it, and see what else they have done. If it seems suspicious, err on the side of caution and don’t install it. 

It is your responsibility as a user to be your own advocate for safety and privacy.

As a developer and creator, it is my responsibility to always treat you with respect and never take advantage of the trust you place in the code that I write. I promise to never break that trust!

-- Matt Kruse, creator of the Social Fixer browser extension

(Full Disclosure: Social Fixer does send minimal data back to my server, but it’s only the type and version of the extension you are using, so I can keep track of how many different versions are out in the wild. I have often considered tracking additional information solely for the purpose of making the extension better for users by identifying which new Facebook features are seen by how many people and what form they take. So far, I have not implemented anything like this, and if I ever do, it will always be opt-in, never opt-out. And it would only be done because it would help make the app better for users.)

Posted in Featured | 39 Comments

7 New Year’s Resolutions I Wish Facebook Would Make

facebook2014Dear Facebook: You’ll probably be drunk at midnight when 2014 rolls in, but we need to talk. You need to do some self-improvement, because you’ve become really annoying lately. So much so that I barely want to hang out with you anymore. Here are 7 New Year’s Resolutions I wish you would make…

#1: Value Your Users More Than Your Advertisers

Product-being-sold[1]You’re an advertising company, and you have acquired more personal information about us than any other company in history. We’ve handed you everything you need to know in order to serve us ads that we might be lured into clicking. But Facebook, you’ve become very short-sighted. You’re focusing on pleasing the advertisers, rather than the users.

Yes, we are the product being sold. But unless you keep users happy, you will soon have no one left to advertise to. Users don’t pay you the money, but they are your customers too. Zuckerberg should ponder these quotes from Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon:

“You want your customers to value your service.”

 

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It's our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”

 

“We've had three big ideas at Amazon that we've stuck with for 18 years, and they're the reason we're successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient.”

#2: Give Users The News Feed We Want

936792_10151904482089342_501132190_n[1]I know you say that your complex news feed algorithms are an attempt to give us the most interesting and relevant stories out of thousands. But we’re not stupid. We know you’re just manipulating the content in order to charge Pages and advertisers for their posts to actually be visible to users. And let’s face it – your algorithms are terrible. Everyone I talk to is becoming disenchanted with their news feed.

Most users just want an unfiltered, chronological news feed of things their Friends and Pages post. You know, like Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and every blog on the planet. Stop trying to tell us what we should want to see, and let us decide instead. If we see too many political rants by Uncle Bob, we’ll hide him. Assuming you don’t take away that feature.

#3: Stop Tinkering – If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It

Features pop in and out at random as you test new code, layout changes, design tweaks, and functionality “enhancements”. When my wife calls me to ask why she is seeing these annoying “Most Popular Posts from 2012” at the top of her news feed, I load up mine and I don’t even see the same thing. Nobody knows what they are going to get anymore or how it works.

Facebook has become like driving a car whose instruments are in different places every time you get in, or randomly disappear entirely. We like continual improvement, but not constant random tinkering. We don’t have time to re-learn how to use Facebook every 2 weeks. It’s really annoying.

#4: Stop Promising Features You Never Deliver

imageRemember the awesome new News Feed design that you announced 9 months ago? Remember the press conference, blog coverage, and slick videos telling us how amazing it will be? Remember how users waited and waited to get moved to the new redesign? Remember how you never actually rolled it out, and in fact scrapped the whole thing because you discovered that users didn’t actually like it? Seriously. You need to stop doing that.

#5: Make Privacy The Default

https://fbcdn-profile-a.akamaihd.net/hprofile-ak-ash2/c29.29.360.360/s160x160/525241_614130721948730_2128604709_n.pngYou want users to share more and tag more and like more and comment more, because it lets you harvest more data. But privacy matters, and by default Facebook should be private. With each update to the privacy settings, you make it more complicated and more difficult to communicate only with those people you wish to.

Instead of gathering better personal data by reducing default privacy, you are making people afraid to say anything of substance because they are never sure who will see it. When I see a friends’ comment on a Page I’ve never heard of, on a topic that might embarrass them, and it’s shown up front and center in my news feed, something is wrong. Living in the spotlight is fun for a while, and then people get sick of it and leave. You need to make users feel comfortable that their every move and click is not being broadcast to their friends, neighbors, and co-workers, otherwise they won’t want to use your site anymore.

#6: Add A Few Simple, Reasonable Features

http://www.entrepreneur.com/dbimages/blog/h1/new_facebook_features_help_businesses_better_manage_their_pages_2.jpgI had such high hopes for Facebook a couple years ago. I thought it would morph into the social site that would bring many of my interactions under one umbrella, and streamline my life so much. Instead, it’s kind of just gotten in the way, which is why I - like many others, it seems - are slowly moving away from it. In all your endless tinkering and billions spent, you still haven’t managed to add a few key features that I feel should be near the top of the list:

  • Let me mark posts as “read” so I don’t see them again. Like my email Inbox, I don’t want to see old messages every time I start up Facebook. I’ve already read them, so let me tuck them away so they don’t show up when I load up Facebook on my phone later! And no, I can’t just “Hide” them, because I’m afraid I’m feeding your broken algorithm, and you’ll start showing me fewer posts like the one I’m hiding.
  • Let me turn off comments and likes on posts. Sometimes I just don’t want any engagement. Or I want to put an end to a comment thread that has gone off-topic.
  • Let me turn off notifications when non-friends “Like” my comment on a public Page or Group. I really don’t care, and it’s filling up my notifications list.
  • Let me filter my news feed by keyword or author. I never, ever, ever want to see cosplay. Ever.
  • Let me enable photo tag approval, but whitelist my wife. I trust her. It’s okay.
  • Make your calendar usable. Imagine how great it would be if I could quickly ask 10 friends which dates works best for a party, and give them 4 options to vote on. Imagine if I could integrate my Facebook calendar with my Google calendar!
  • Stop sending Messages to my Other folder! And stop doing it for others! This is the lamest attempt at Inbox control I’ve ever seen.
  • Let me do basic mail message filtering based on keyword. Much better.
  • Oh, I can give you more. Call me.

#7: Take A Few Hints From Social Fixer

logo[1]Social Fixer is a browser extension that tries to fix a bunch of your user interface failures and add new features that are actually useful. Of course, this is the blog of the extension’s site, so this is kind of blatant self-promotion, isn’t it?

Well, only kind of. There are over a 1.5 Million people who use Social Fixer (growing every day), so clearly there is demand for its functionality. A tabbed news feed, post filtering, marking posts as read, making the news feed stay on Most Recent, show full time stamps, etc. And that’s not even including the features you demanded be removed, like the Friend Tracker that notified users when they were unfriended.

You’ve already taken a number of features from the extension and put them into the site. That’s cool. But wouldn’t it be better to work with someone who is clearly in tune with what many users want, rather than work against him?

“Social Fixer and Facebook, they’re both so intense… put ‘em together, it just makes sense!” -- Olaf, 2013

[Bonus #8: Make That Matt Kruse Guy A Millionaire]

1148794_10151821592117276_610595457_n[1]Okay, this one is a little selfish. If you can offer Snapchat $3 Billion, couldn’t you pass along a little cash to the guy who works hard to keep your site usable? Yes, generous users send me donations to support the project, but they cover the bills and go to my family vacation fund. It’s not like I’m getting rich from my work.

I’m available for consulting. Our you can just buy me out and hire me to fix the site from the inside. Your choice. Smile 

Good Luck In 2014, Facebook!

I hope you make some changes to improve yourself. I think you’ll find that people will like you more, and that’s not such a bad thing, is it? Happy New Year, Facebook! Smile 

-- Matt Kruse, developer of Social Fixer

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Social Fixer 9.0 Resolves News Feed Problems And More

santa_logo_200Version 9.0 of Social Fixer resolves many of the problems caused by Facebook’s recent changes to their news feed and other features, as described in a recent blog post. It also adds a few useful new features. Be sure to install the latest version to take advantage of the fixes!

download
Install the 9.0 update by going to SocialFixer.com

What's Fixed

  • Recent Facebook code changes caused many key Social Fixer features to stop working for some users – mark posts as read, filtering, tabbing, etc. This version should resolve those problems for most users.
  • Filtering now works for text in the “tag line” like "X commented on this" 
  • Comment counts were not being correctly calculated when "view X more comments" links existed

new_wrench_menuWhat's New

  • The wrench menu has been rearranged and divided into sections to make it clearer
  • New feature: Show “Hidden” Sections under the wrench menu shows parts of the screen that have been hidden by Social Fixer options.
  • A link to the blog has been added under the wrench menu. When a new blog post is detected, a link directly to it will be inserted, along with its title. A “1” indicator will be shown on the wrench menu when there is a new unseen blog post. An option in the “Advanced” tab has been added to disable this feature entirely (please don’t!)

What's Changed

  • The functionality to auto-click older posts has been broken by Facebook and may not be fixable. I cannot figure out a way into their code. Yet.
  • Posts will be auto-loaded as you scroll down, as it is by default on Facebook. However, Social Fixer stops the auto-loading after 5 page loads, to prevent their code from going into an eternal loop and loading hundreds of pages worth of posts. This is a necessary trade-off, and to continue loading more you can just click ‘More Stories’.
  • For some reason, Facebook removes posts from the feed when it detects that you are not looking at them. For example, if you’ve loaded 100 posts but are at the top of your news feed, Facebook will silently remove 50 posts from the end of the feed. I don’t know why they do this, but it causes problems with Social Fixer because posts are not in the places they think they are (due to filtering and tabbing). So I have prevented this functionality to the best of my ability. But if you see posts randomly disappearing in front of your eyes, it means I have some more work to do.

Questions? Problems? Need Support?

The Support Team and the Social Fixer user community can help you out in the Social Fixer Support Group, located here: http://SocialFixer.com/support/

Best Wishes!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and I hope you have a Happy New Year!

Donate to support development.

-- Matt Kruse, developer of Social Fixer

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Social Fixer Is Partly Broken. Here’s Why…

broken_facebookSome features of Social Fixer are not working correctly for many users – marking posts as read, auto-clicking for more stories, and some filtering functionality. I am very frustrated by this and I am trying hard to fix it. Here’s an explanation of why it is how it is and where it stands now…

Current State – Beta Version Is Better, But Not Perfect

I have released a beta test build on the Social Fixer Development page which fixes many problems users are having, but not all. The reason I have not released this update yet is mainly because one issue is still not fixed – loading of More Stories.

imageWhen you hide posts in the news feed through filters or by marking them as read, the news feed is empty. This confuses Facebook’s code, and it thinks you have scrolled to the bottom of the feed because the “More Stories” footer is visible. So it tries to load more, and gets into an infinite loop, loading hundreds of stories and causing the page to slow to a crawl. It becomes unusable. As long as Social Fixer provides the potential to empty out the news feed, this problem exists. The methods I used before to account for this no longer work, as they have completely new code to control it, which I have not yet been able to hook into.

When this issue is resolved, I will release an official update that fixes many, but not all, of the known issues. So… what caused the issues to begin with?

Why Is It Broken?

Facebook’s Internal Code Structure Is Constantly Mutating

Social Fixer works by inspecting the underlying HTML code structure of the web page, processing it, and manipulating it. When they change their internal structure, Social Fixer no longer knows how to take it apart and change it, so it stops working. Lately, Facebook has been changing their internal code structure a lot, and I can’t keep up (these changes are not visible on the screen, just in the code). Sometimes the entire code structure changes after a simple page reload. Crazy. This is why filters are not able to properly process things like “commented on”, etc at the moment – because they are contained in a structure that Social Fixer can’t recognize with its current code.

Remember the redesigned News Feed that Facebook announced earlier in the year? They have scrapped it, because apparently users did not engage with it as much. But some of the internal code changes from that redesign are leaking into the existing news feed, which is driving some of the changes. Also, they are increasingly using their React javascript framework to build their content, which makes it very difficult for me to work with.

Facebook’s Code Is A Mess

If you aren’t a web developer, it’s probably hard to appreciate how insane Facebook’s code is. Trust me. It’s insane. It’s ridiculously complex, obfuscated, minified, and unreadable. They use programming methodologies that are rarely seen on the web, because they face problems of scale that few other sites do. The end result is that it is increasingly difficult for me to reverse-engineer their code and figure out what it does. I trace through functions named xa() and eb() and __d() and try to infer what they mean and how they are intended to work. It’s very difficult. Don’t believe me? Check out the screenshot below of one of their many javascript files! This is what I work with, and I need to go through a number of steps to manipulate it into a form I can even begin to comprehend:

code

Code And Features Are Inconsistent Between Users

Facebook is constantly testing features and code changes, so not every user even sees the same things. The underlying code for one user may be very different for someone else, so a feature that works for me may not work for you. I do not have access to see every version of code sent to every user for every feature. So I work with what I can see, and hope it works for everyone else, too. Unfortunately, the disparity between code sent to different users is growing.

Facebook Is Making Its Code Harder (or Impossible) To Manipulate

5jny7[1]As crazy as their code is, I used to be able to access it and manipulate it once I figured out what it was doing. Not so much anymore. They are coding using new patterns that prevent external apps like Social Fixer from touching some of the internal functionality. It’s hidden from me and inaccessible. So in some cases, I simply cannot do some of the things I did before. Variables and state are hidden inside private variables contained within closures, and I can’t access to them. They are doing a good job of locking me out, which I assume is part of their intent.

I’m Busy And A Bit Overwhelmed

I’m human, and I have lots of things going on. It is the holiday season and I have a family and a regular full-time job that is increasingly stressful. I have not been able to find as much time to work on this as usual. And since it’s increasingly daunting and headache-inducing, sometimes I just can’t make any progress after I sit down at 11pm to try to fix broken features. Honestly, I’m really tired, and pretty overwhelmed. But that will pass.

It’s Christmas! About Donations…

santa_logo1This time of year, donations usually slow to a trickle, and that’s fine – people are buying gifts for family and friends, or donating to worthy causes. That’s great! I hope that if you have to choose between donating to this software project or buying a child a gift from the Angel Tree, you would choose the latter.

But I have received a few mails from people asking how to donate because they wanted to spread some “Christmas Cheer” to me. I always appreciate that, and if your generosity this time of year has any room for a random guy on the internet, you can go over to the donation page to send me some Christmas Cheer. Thanks Winking smile 

Stay Tuned! It Will Get Fixed!

I may not be able to fix everything perfectly, but I will maintain my focus on empowering Facebook users to make the most efficient use of the site possible. I hope you’ll stick with me even through the times where things are broken. My hope is that I always add enough value that the good parts over-shadow the broken parts!

Are You A Javascript Wizard Who Wants To Help?

I’m always looking for people to assist in understanding Facebook’s code or even work on finding fixes for issues. If you’re an expert at javascript and want to give it a shot, let me know. If you’re good, you’ll figure out how to contact me. heh.

-- Matt Kruse, developer of Social Fixer

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Facebook Doesn’t Want You To Know Who Unfriends You! Do You?

unfriendFacebook thinks that being unfriended is a "negative experience" for users, and they only want to allow positive experiences (ex: no "dislike" button). It's fine that they don't offer this feature, but I don’t think it’s right of them to shut down every 3rd party app that does, nor do I think it’s in their own best interest.

Why Does Anyone Need To Know Who Unfriends Them?

  • Sometimes it’s an accident, and they want to ask the person if they meant to unfriend them
  • Sometimes Facebook has glitches, and people get unfriended unintentionally
  • Sometimes friends are struggling with life, and them deactivating their account may be a sign that they need help
  • Sometimes people play online games and they keep friends as part of their game groups, so like to know if someone has left their group by unfriending them
  • Sometimes people just like to know why Friend X is no longer appearing in their news feed!

None of these reasons seems particularly bad or negative, do they? It seems unreasonable for Facebook to assume it knows better than users what they want. Especially when this functionality is only available to people who specifically seek it out and install an app to inform them. It’s not like random users would be shocked and surprised to suddenly find out that someone unfriended them.

Facebook Shuts Down Unfriending Apps

Facebook-Lawsuit[1]Facebook has a history of trying to shut down any application that offers users the ability to know who unfriends them. For example, http://unfriendfinder.net/ was a popular tool that had to shut down. And recently, they told me that Social Fixer could no longer offer this feature. For now, the site at http://who.deleted.me still works, but trying to share it on Facebook fails because they’ve marked it as malicious.

What grounds do they have to demand that these apps shut down? It’s not a legal matter – offering these features is not breaking any kind of law. Instead, they say that developers are breaking their Terms of Service. Specifically, section 1.3 of the Platform Policy, which states:

“You must not circumvent (or claim to circumvent) our intended limitations on core Facebook features and functionality.”

Since Facebook specifically doesn’t offer this feature, neither can anyone else. If you break their ToS, then you may not get a lawsuit, but you might get:

  • Your personal account removed from Facebook
  • Your permission to access Facebook at all revoked
  • Any Page, Group, etc that you’ve setup to promote your app may be removed
  • Your web site may be marked as malicious, so anyone trying to post a link to your tool will not be able to do so on Facebook

So, while we may not be doing anything illegal, we may effectively be shut out from Facebook, the very site we are trying to improve. And we won’t be able to spread the word about our app on Facebook, the very place it is intended to be used. For most developers (myself included) it’s just not worth it. Facebook “wins” and gets to dictate what users get to see and know. I don’t personally want to risk giving up all access to Facebook just to retain a useful feature. That would kind of defeat the purpose.

Facebook Principle: Give Users Choice And Control?

imageOne of Facebook’s supposed Principles in the Platform Policy is to “Create a great user experience” and to “Give users choice and control”.

I believe that if Facebook genuinely wants to give users choice and control, and give them a great user experience, they should allow developers to create tools that extend and enhance that experience. They should not try to shut down apps and tools that give users the information that they want and find valuable. Especially when it comes to information like who has unfriended you – something that you can already figure out on your own but with a lot of extra effort.

Facebook should embrace the developer community and support its desire to improve and extend the functionality they offer. That would be truly giving users choice and control, and help make the world more open and connected.

Voice Your Opinion!

Facebook is notoriously difficult (if not impossible) to contact, but if you agree here’s what you can do:

  • Share on Facebook and this post
  • Post this to places like Reddit, Slashdot, or wherever else people might be interested
  • Find an appropriate email address for Facebook to contact and let them know you disagree with how they handle this. (So far, I haven’t found one)

Who knows, maybe a little attention to this issue may cause Facebook to reconsider its stance.

If you’re curious, here is the history of my dealings with Facebook about Social Fixer offering its Friend Tracker functionality (and more):

  1. Facebook Removes Social Fixer Page Without Warning
  2. Beware: Your Business Is At The Mercy Of Facebook! Social Fixer Page Deleted Without Explanation…
  3. Social Fixer Page Removed: Follow-up And Responses To Questions And Comments
  4. Facebook Requires Social Fixer Browser Extension To Remove Key Features
  5. Facebook Compromises: Social Fixer Can Keep Feed Filtering

On a personal note, I’ve actually received many private Messages and public comments from users who are very angry about this, and taking it out on me. I’ve been called every name in the book, and been repeatedly personally insulted. Clearly, people really feel strongly about this. But I hope that frustration would be directed at Facebook, and not at me. Posts like this are my attempt to continue being a User Advocate, and to at least give a voice for our opinions.

-- Matt Kruse, developer of Social Fixer, a browser extension that makes Facebook better

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