My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Why I hate Facebook's news feed

For reasons beyond my ken, I cannot sign into AIM at the moment I'm writing this. This lapse in stimulus caused my brain to seek more meaningless information bombardment before it collapsed into a pile of quivering, atrophied jelly. That's right: I went on Facebook. And as I sat here, staring at the New Feed on the homepage, I sighed.

The News Feed is useless for my purposes, as are many of the tools Facebook purports to offer me.

Now, although I have been (and continue to be) critical of Facebook's privacy policies, I did not quit Facebook and have no plans to do so. Despite my forthcoming complaints, Facebook is a useful tool in some respects; managed properly, privacy is a concern but not enough motivation for quitting the service altogether.

My experience with Facebook has had incredible highs and some lows. Facebook reunited me with some friends, with whom I lost touch after moving across town, from elementary school. They are now friends in this newfangled adulthood thing I'm trying on for size. On the other hand, I've accepted friend requests from people I barely knew in high school (or barely remember from elementary school), purely because I felt bad saying "no." I try to be more selective now, but the damage is done.

So I was happy when Facebook introduced the ability to make lists of Friends. I am nowhere near as compulsive nor as organized as some people I like to know. I lack the determination and the single-minded intensity to manifest a vortex of order around myself. Yet I do, when the fancy strikes me, like to put my digital life into lists. Friend lists offered me the opportunity to sort people by how I knew them, and by who I cared about the most.

There was also a nifty feature that let me filter the news feed by friend list. Suddenly instead of seeing the inane status of someone with whom I've barely interacted, either in person or online, I was able to tune out the noise and only see what really mattered to me. It was quite . . . useful.

Several redesigns later, and that feature is, while not entirely gone, much less conveniently employed. It's still possible to do what I want, but I can't find a way to make it the default option (tips on this, if it's possible, would be much appreciated). So by default, the news feed shows me updates from all of my friends and from pages that I've "liked" but from which I don't want to see updates. The "options" the news feed offers me are limited; I can choose to emphasize some friends and hide others, but that doesn't seem very helpful. And it is hard enough to access the options dialog, because the link is at the bottom of the page . . . which keeps on loading more status updates every time I scroll down!

I know that picking on the Big Bad Facebook Monster is the new pink, and I'm loath to jump on the bandwagon. Nevertheless, my AIM-lessness and idle navigation to the Facebook news feed provoked in me a desire to express my frustration that such a potentially useful feature has been rendered anaemic and useless by poor design.

As it is, I don't use Facebook for the applications. I don't use much for photos, or for its news feed. I'm still on Facebook because it's a useful communications medium, a way to contact my friends and keep in touch. Yet as far as websites go, Facebook's design is deeply flawed--and their numerous redesigns seem to indicate they sense this, even as each one compounds the problem.