Beating Facebook’s Algorithm and Being Your Own Curator

By now we have all read lots of articles and opinion pieces on Facebook, or at least seen lots of scary headlines. We are slowly and collectively awakening to the power Facebook has over us, which is to say, the power we have given it. We have given Facebook power one click, one tap, and one like at a time. The situation is not yet dire and we don’t yet have to #deleteFacebook. But it’s definitely time to consider what power we are willing to cede to it.

Become a Patron

One key power we’ve given to Facebook is the power of curation. Let’s talk about curation, what it is, and why it matters. I’ve just spent the better part of a week browsing museums all over England. Every museum has a number of items on display and a much greater number of items in storage. The job of a curator is to select which items from the collection will be visible to the public and which will not. This gives the curator a kind of power over the visitor—the power to describe history. The curator can keep key objects hidden away, thus obscuring what really happened. He can choose to display objects of little importance, thus telling an inaccurate or unbalanced story. The more you browse museums the more you become aware of the power and responsibility of the curator.

The Power of Curation

There is power in curation, and especially the curation of ideas. Many of us have entrusted the curation of the news and information we encounter to Facebook. We have allowed Facebook to become responsible for determining what we will see and what we will not see. We type F-a-c-e-b-o-o-k-.-c-o-m into our browser many times each day to see what it has for us. When we do this, we are allowing Facebook and it’s content-choosing algorithm to stand between ourselves and the rest of the Web and to choose what we will see. Every day countless millions of pieces of information get fed into Facebook—videos, articles, think pieces, animated gifs, A La Carte—it all goes in there and Facebook, through the magic of its algorithm, decides what to show each one of us. It decides what it thinks is most likely to interest us and what will best monetize us. Facebook is, after all, first a business.

We may think that when we like a page on Facebook we are indicating to Facebook that we desire to see that page’s content. But it really doesn’t work that way. The algorithm still stands between us and the content to silently and programmatically make that determination. For a content-creator like myself, I cannot count on more than one percent of the people who like my page actually seeing my content (unless, of course, I choose to pay Facebook to extend that reach). The algorithm keeps it from people like you who may wish to see it.

And so it’s good to ask: With all we know, and all we have learned, and all we have experienced of Facebook, is this—the power of curation—a power we want to entrust to it? As Facebook is increasingly determining what is real news and what is fake, as it is determining what is love and what is hate, as it is algorithmically enforcing its own values on us, can we still trust it to curate our content? Personally, I don’t mind if it decides which of my friend’s photos I see or which of my cousin’s updates I get access to, but I don’t care to allow it to determine what is newsworthy, what is important, or what is moral.

The Future in the Past

I tend to think the future lies in the past, in a brilliant little technology called RSS. Essentially it works like this: Almost every web site generates what is called an RSS feed—a little file that contains the site’s most recent content. It’s kind of like a web site, but for computers to read, not people. You can use an app or site known as an RSS reader to subscribe to that content on your behalf. When you do that, it will “translate” it to an understandable format, and present it to you. The job of an RSS reader is not to curate the content, but simply to provide it to you in chronological order. You get to be your own curator by choosing what you will add in the first place.

Where should you begin? I’d start with Feedly, a powerful and free service that is ideal to get you going. You can access it through their web site or through a variety of apps. If you’d like to know how I use it and to see some of the blogs I follow through it, you can click here. Basically, sign up for an account, type in a few of your favorite sites so you can subscribe to them, and remember to visit a couple of times a day. You’ll be well on your way.

Why don’t you try RSS and see if it can work for you. Why don’t you see if you benefit from taking back the power of curation.