There are lots of things I wish Facebook would do in the new year. Stop all political advertising, since trying to enforce easily gamed rules seems to have been more trouble than it’s worth. Get rid of News Feed algorithmic rankings altogether. Show more of a willingness to kick repeated rule-breakers off its platform entirely. Do I think that Facebook is going to implement any of the things at the top of my list? That’s about as likely as Mark Zuckerberg stepping down.
While anecdotally, many of the folks I know who follow tech news are considering deleting Facebook altogether after a year of data privacy scandals, I’m not quite there yet. It is still an important tool to help me keep in touch with friends and family, and connect with people in my industry. Most of them — while they’re aware that Facebook has a history of collecting more data on us than the company likes to admit — don’t see enough of a negative impact on them yet to quit Facebook.
Instead, here’s my list of changes I’d like to see Facebook make in 2019 to make me feel better about staying on the platform, and perhaps make me share more than I used to on the site.
Add ephemeral controls for News Feed posts
Last year, Zuckerberg told investors that he thought ephemeral video Stories would become more popular among users than posts in feeds. Nine months later, he admitted that Story sharing on Facebook was growing slower than expected, and started emphasizing the emergence of a “feed-plus-stories world.”
I’ve shared my misgivings about Stories before. Facebook placed Stories at the top of News Feed to ensure greater adoption rates, but I think that that has masked how popular they actually are. Ephemeral video sharing makes more sense on Instagram, which is a more visual platform and whose audience skews younger, than on Facebook.
But I think Facebook has one part of the equation right — more people want to share ephemerally. So why not give them the option to do that, in News Feed, without also trying to persuade them to share more videos instead of text? I’d love to have the ability to set posts to disappear not just within 24 hours, but after a month or even a year.
Give the option of reporting irrelevant notifications
Over the holidays, I took a three-day break from all of my social media accounts. Within those three days, I got three email notifications on Facebook that a friend had shared a link or posted a new photo on Facebook. Not that I had been tagged in those links or photos — simply that a friend had posted a new photo.
If you’ve taken a break from Facebook in the past year, you’ve also likely received these completely irrelevant notifications. Facebook’s line is that users have the ability to manage their notifications under the “settings” tab — but it makes users dig to understand what notifications Facebook has decided they will receive.
I had to laugh when I went in to change my settings today, as that three-day flurry of emails was the last straw for me. According to Facebook, I’m only supposed to receive “important” email notifications. Only when I clicked on the edit button did I learn that Facebook defined “important notifications” as notifications “about you or the activity you’ve missed” (emphasis mine).
I can’t imagine that receiving notifications about a friend from high school posting a photo of their dog is doing that much to increase engagement on Facebook. I would welcome the ability to report right from the homepage notifications button the notifications that I don’t think are relevant to me — data points that I imagine Facebook’s engagement team would be happy to receive.
Share a more detailed breakdown of how you’re spending your time on Facebook
Facebook joined phone makers like Apple and Google this year in releasing features that show you how much time you’re spending on their app(s) in a relatively toothless effort to make people feel better about the time they’re spending online. In the Settings & Privacy tab on the Facebook mobile app, users can click on “Your Time on Facebook” to see how much time they’re spending on the app per day, and elect to receive a push notification when they’ve spent more than their desired amount of time on Facebook for that day.
What would really make the feature useful is if Facebook actually blocked users from using the app when they’ve gone over their allotted time. But Facebook isn’t going to do that, because cutting off users would be too drastic of a step for an app that relies heavily on users spending as much time on the app as possible so that they can see lots of ads.
One change I would like to see Facebook make, though, is to give more meaningful metrics to users to help them better understand how they’re spending their time on Facebook. How many times a day do I open the app? How long are my sessions? Which groups am I spending the most time in? Which friends do I interact with the most? I think that giving Facebook users more metrics would actually help them see which parts of the app are most valuable to them, and would actually encourage them to spend more time there.
Offer a subscription option in exchange for no ads
This is probably the least likely item on my list to become reality within a year. But I think we will eventually look back on 2018 as a harbinger of Facebook’s shift to a business model that’s less reliant on sucking up as much data as possible.
That’s because with this year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has managed to irritate the group who could affect the company’s operations the most: lawmakers. Facebook’s failure to stop Cambridge Analytica from improperly obtaining user data got Zuckerberg to testify in front of Congress for the first time ever, with lawmakers handing down threats of regulation if Facebook didn’t do more to protect user privacy.
Even the mere threats of regulation got Facebook to make a number of costly changes — devote more resources to reviewing apps that Facebook had previously given access to, as well as pledging to create a Clear History tool that disassociates browsing data from a user account. But that tool — which Facebook originally said in May would be available within several months — has now been pushed back to spring 2019, because it’s been more difficult to develop than Facebook initially thought, according to Recode.
Facebook’s going to face more pressure to give users more control over how the company collects and processes their data. But I think that creating these new controls and complying with regulations like GDPR are going to prove too costly, and at a certain point Facebook is going to say screw it, and add the subscription option it’s long disavowed.