The Facebook Cheat Sheet

Tridib called Facebook a “Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game” in which the objective is to make as many ‘friend’s as possible. So how does one go about it? Here’s a cheat sheet at cracking this Great Game.

This comes from a one-month experiment by Tom Weber of the Daily Beast (which is, with the Huffington Post, among the world’s best recognised online-only newspapers). It pondered a particular feature of Facebook: although one may have hundreds of ‘friend’s on Facebook, why do we see the feeds from only a few? And why is that these feeds are not necessarily our closest friends, but a strangely random selection? Well, it turns out it isn’t random at all, but based on Facebooks’ idea of what you should be seeing.

[Aside: Why is Facebook so concerned about what we should or should not see? Isn’t this dangerously like what Google has been suggesting recently? Isn’t this what the People Republic of China does anyway?]

We’ll cite the conclusions of the study verbatim here:

The Daily Beast’s one-month experiment into Facebook’s news feed yielded the following discoveries:

  • A bias against newcomers
  • “Most Recent” doesn’t tell the whole story.
  • Links are favored over status updates, and photos and videos trump links.
  • “Stalking” your friends won’t get you noticed.
  • Raise your visibility by getting people to comment.
  • It’s hard to get the attention of “popular kids.”

The Daily Beast got a volunteer to open a fresh Facebook account (he had never had one before). So Phil Simonetti, 60, created an account and added about two dozen ‘friends’, who were other volunteers in the experiment. Everything he did on the network, was directed by the experimenters. This went on for a whole month.


1. Facebook discriminates against newcomers: As the Daily Beast puts it, “If there’s one thing our experiment made all too clear, it’s that following 500 million people into a party means that a lot of the beer and pretzels are already long gone.” It leads to a piquant situation. Your status updates and other activities (links, pictures, videos) don’t automatically show up on your friends’ feeds. So joining up & typing away isn’t really useful unless your friends help you out.

Daily Beast Recommendation: Try to get a few friends to click like crazy on your items.

2. Facebook decides where you show up: If you’ve noticed (and many haven’t), Facebook delivers you stuff in two ways. ‘Top News’ is a selection of what Facebook decides is good for you, and ‘Most Recent’ is supposedly all the latest news. Posting updates and having your friends ‘like’ and comment on them isn’t enough. It’s not the quantity that matters, but the quality. You might think ‘Most Recent’ shows you everything, but nope, Facebook still decides what you need to see.

3. It’s all about stalking: Following what your friends do, replying to their updates, seeing their photos….well, that’s what Facebook wants you to do. It wants you to spend a huge amount of time so that some of that time filters through to the ads. But there’s no reciprocity – your own updates are not going to become popular. (In a real world, somebody will be obliged to say something nice about your activity as a polite way to respond to you saying something nice about their activity. On Facebook, theyll never see it in the first place.)

What you want to be is Lady Gaga. Do not give a half damn for what others do, but be the kind of person whose every move is followed. The more people respond to you, the more they stalk you, the more popular you get, and then your actions show up on your friends’ feeds. In other words, you need to be a bit popular already to get even more popular. It’s like getting rich: you need money to make money.

(I can testify to this. Once I was a non-entity on Facebook; now some friends complain I show up everywhere. But then, I’ve had an active account for four years now.)

4. Your activities have a hierarchy: Thought up that clever one-liner? Don’t post it in the hope of getting lot’s of wow comments. Facebook considers status updates anodyne. It likes you better when you post links. The Daily Beast speculates that “links are more effective at driving “user engagement,” which translates into people spending more time on Facebook”. And photos and videos are even better. “Facebook likes clicks, and photos deliver them.”

5. Comment Express: If your post attracted a few comments, it’s more likely to feature on someon’es wall, attracting more comments. So if you want to be popular and have friends loyal enough to help you, get them to comment away everytime you post. This lesson isn’t really very different from #3.

6. The Maven effect: A ‘maven’ is someone with a huge list of contacts, as Malcolm Gladwell defined it in The Tipping Point. As a newbie, you’re not going to attarct the attention of a maven much. So when you go about ‘friend’-ing people on Facebook, don’t target the mavens. Try being one yourself, get ‘friends’ who have fewer ‘friend’s than you. They’ll see your messages more often, interact more often and hence push you up more often. At 462 ‘friends’, I’m no way near the top Facebook mavens, but given most of my ‘friend’s haven’t that many ‘friend’s, I’m something of a mini-maven from them. The result: you get people wanting to ‘friend’ you, which is some sense the objective of the game.

So I hope you’ll find this little cheat sheet useful as you play the MMORPG that is Facebook. Better still, do read the whole Daily Beast article.

P.S. Please don’t neglect your real-life friends and family, as some seem to have murderously done.

About ozymandias

What am I? A body and brain, products of carbon concatenation chemistry, an intelligence and conscience to enable bits of DNA evolve. Maybe a pharaoh, maybe a dung-beetle, never more than a safe conduit for some genes.
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