The reason I may finally quit Facebook

The social network's news feed gives users only the illusion of control.

By Staff Feb 5, 2014 3:14PM

A woman makes the 'thumbs down' sign in front of an enlarged 'Like' symbol of the social networking site Facebook. © Corbis By Jason Notte, TheStreet

Well, Internet -- and Facebook in particular -- you win: I've reached Peak Outrage.

short piece hammered out by my colleague Rocco Pendola exposed a tweeted moment of weakness that disguised a much larger truth: Facebook (FB) is burning me right out. I can spend hours on Twitter (TWTR) having conversations about topics ranging from the merits of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" to the slow decline of craft beer. Frankly, I can spend hours on it just talking about beer and engaging in discussions like those you'd have face to face.

Looking at my Facebook news feed on a daily basis is like watching a "The Day After"/"Requiem for a Dream" marathon. Because it sees fit to cycle through TheStreet, Gawker, The Daily Beast, Slate, The Atlantic, The Guardian and The New Yorker in massive blocks spanning hours, it turns into an echo chamber of outrage and impotent criticism culminating only in despair and disdain for one's fellow human beings.

Facebook has a way of trivializing just about everything it touches, and its news feed does so with information just by piling it on. Click down to receive "only important updates" from various publications and you're still trapped beneath a deluge of stories that drowns just about all other content in its ensuing miasma. It's a terrible place to read news and an even worse place to start the day. logoI think about the reasons I'm still on Facebook as often as I am, and they sound more like justifications for blowing up my Facebook profile as quickly as possible. I want to stay in touch with friends and family, whose updates Facebook shows me only a fraction of. I want to keep tabs on current events and my favorite publications -- though the former almost never appear in posts from the latter, thanks to the news feed's penchant for repeatedly favoring the same stories. There is absolutely no reason I should see the same vaccination story four times in four postings from one publication.

As Pendola pointed out a few weeks ago in his story "Facebook loses when it tries to be Twitter," there are ways to curate your news feed and customize your way around its ineptitude. The problem is the one thing Facebook users and just about all other online consumers are begrudgingly admitting 10 years into Facebook's lifespan: Almost nobody wants to put that much effort into it.

Pendola has previously compared Facebook with founder Mark Zuckerberg's vision of it: "The best personalized newspaper in the world." OK, but requiring a Mashable tutorial to make Facebook even resemble that high-minded ideal is like calling up a newsroom every morning and placing an order for what you'd like to see in the paper that day -- only to have the editors either miss or blatantly ignore parts of that order so they can give you more ads and fewer personally relevant stories.

Basically, Facebook became all the worst parts of actual newspapers, but with your friends and family reduced to small print somewhere in the police briefs. The big, terrible stories drive traffic and draw jerks like me into the comments fields to vent. But that's not what I or just about anyone else came to Facebook for.

Similarly, hearing the same 20 percent of Apple (AAPL) iTunes libraries on repeat isn't what people with thousands of songs on their hard drives adopted iTunes for, but it's the reason big, bulky iTunes collections are going unused and unchanged like the CD collections they replaced. Apple, Amazon (AMZN) and others who lived by the MP3 were never concerned with how you were listening to your music, but that you were listening to more of it. It's why the shuffle feature was never quite random enough, the Genius feature stuck to genres like a dumb music store CD rack and sales of digital downloads started dropping for the first time last year. It's also a disheartening turn for Apple, whose consumer ranks are filled with folks who fled the pedantic, piecemeal PC market for simpler plug-and-play Macs and iDevices.

The fact is, we don't want to curate. We say we do because it sounds like the enlightened, responsible thing to say, but we want technology to take the next leap ahead and stop making us put together mixes like a college freshman. The better corners of the Internet already do this.

As Pendola notes on several occasions, Twitter does a far better job of keeping users informed and in touch just by its nature. Those 140 characters keep things brief and skippable, reward cleverness and require everyone to get to the point or cycle to the bottom. Twitter's news feed can be broken into groups or streamlined with help from TweetDeck or HootSuite, but it doesn't game the system and reward just the popular content. The items in your feed don't get any help making it there and don't just show up because they're viral.

It's an ideal platform for both news and communication and transparently leaves content choices in the user's hands -- with minimal curation required. That's the basic gist of steaming services like Pandora (P), Radioio (RDIO) and Spotify as well: Let users build a base of lists or stations, let them streamline those offerings with the help of algorithms and minimal tweaks like thumbs-up or thumbs-down voting, and let them enjoy their experience without bother.

Even Netflix (NFLX), which has earned its share of scorn for customer interaction and unpleasant surprises in the past, is becoming incredibly adept at constructing an ideal streaming environment around individual users. Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic identified 76,897 microgenres in Netflix's streaming interface earlier this year, from "Emotional Fight-the-System Documentaries" to "Foreign Satanic Stories from the 1980s." Netflix is not only attempting to give users exactly what they want to get them to stick around, it's using that information to create original content with enough attributes to draw those same users in.

We don't want a program telling us what to watch, listen to, read or see. We want to tell that program all of that information once and never have to worry about it again. That's where Facebook is falling short. That's why after unliking a whole lot of news feed content from ordinarily great publications, I may have to unlike Facebook next.

More from TheStreet

Feb 5, 2014 5:16PM
Facebook always has been, and always will be, a place for drama queens, busy bodies, people without care or regard for their own privacy/private lives, to become someone you're not, and finally, a way of distancing yourself from actual verbal and physical contact versus using a phone to talk and see someone in real time....face to face.  Social media sucks! 
Feb 5, 2014 4:15PM
let me think.  Facebook?  oh yeah, that's that worthless, idiot, "social" media site I quit 3 years ago.
Feb 5, 2014 5:04PM
Facebook has very little meaning to me. I do have a life and I don't care what every Tom, Dick and Harry is doing out there. But, there are some who live for it and play games on it and send all their contacts an invitation to help them earn their coins. Who gives a hoot! There was once a life before Facebook and it sure was a good one too.
Gee... An article on the internet about not using FB.... LMAO!

My goal in life has always been NOT to let everybody know what I am doing.... Its none of their business...

Feb 5, 2014 4:26PM
Who uses face book anymore. .
I don't care if you pooped , got laid or are going to work .. who cares now with tablets ,and phones I can only imagine people pooping and posting
Feb 5, 2014 4:33PM
Facebook was not meant to be a news source-just sayin.'
Feb 5, 2014 4:24PM
I gave up on FB when it started sending Obamacare feeds to my timeline.  Pure evil.
Feb 5, 2014 5:05PM

That's why I am completely Facebook-LESS and Facebook-FREE!In other words,I will never ever come back to Facebook in the future!NEVER!NEVER!NEVER!

Feb 5, 2014 5:09PM
Facebook jumped the shark the moment you could 'like' your favorite laundry detergent.
Feb 5, 2014 4:25PM
never used fakebook or twits.  never will  'JUST WIPED MY BUTT!!!"  TWEET TWEET TWEET

I like pandora.  get to hear some tunes and artists I might never have come across otherwise.

Feb 5, 2014 4:39PM
interesting article, but this is why I haven't "liked" any newspapers, magazines or companies on Facebook.  In this way my newsfeed is only full of posting from family and friends and I can go to twitter for everything else.  Perhaps anyone suffering from the same problem as the writer should consider unfriending (defriending? I can't keep it straight) anything on facebook that isn't an actual person?  
Feb 5, 2014 3:48PM
Sorry to tell you this, Mr. Notte, but this is your fault, not Facebook's. It's entirely possible to have a quality experience on Facebook, but using it as a dedicated news aggregator is probably not the best way.
Feb 5, 2014 4:53PM

 1. why should anyone care if the author quits facebook?


 2. why does the author feel the need to tell the whole world?


 dude quit being a phag!  noone cares!

Feb 5, 2014 4:59PM
Wow! It seems like everywhere one goes on the internet these days all you see, hear or read is wah wah wah from sniveling cry babies. Put on a helmet you sissies. 
Feb 5, 2014 4:40PM
Sorry to say it, but although Mark Suckkabugger is rich, he is also destined for the 7th level of hell.  Even Satan has a FB page, and he's not happy with it either.  He plans to complain to Mark about it and meet out some punishment...forever.
Feb 5, 2014 4:52PM
What the hell do people actually use facebook for other than keeping tabs on everyone? I really don't find genuine interest in people's lives but there is always a bit of info that could help me now and again.
Feb 5, 2014 6:22PM
Forget Facebook - Forget Twitter - get your nose out of the smart phone.

Have real person to person contact.
Feb 5, 2014 4:46PM

Just treat Facebook like old-time letter writing. Log on no more than once a week to share a synopsis of your life to your friends and family (realistically no more than once a month is needed, but at least pre- or post-holidays/birthdays.)

Leave chat available only when you are on it (i.e. don't leave it on your smartphone, make yourself available for random chatting on your own terms.)

Learn to categorize your friends into "Groups": School, work, family, etc. This allows you to quickly hit the pages of your family, then decide if you want to see what John/Jane Doe from 20 years ago is up to without wading through everyone.

Go on hiatus for at least 3 months every year.

Feb 5, 2014 4:34PM
I don't use facebook, but I remember MSN money urging everyone to sell their shares before last weeks earnings report which "shattered" expectations moving the stock +16% or some shi7...
Feb 5, 2014 7:41PM
I've always wondered why people that have 4,598 friends on Facebook are forced to post selfies.  Why aren't any of these friends around to take the picture for them?
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