19 June 2016

DIGITAL - Simplifying Social Media Algorithms

While ‘simple algorithms’ is something of an oxymoron, it’s a beneficial weapon in the toolbox to have an idea of how the dynamic algorithms for some of the most popular social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – have evolved.

‘A process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer’ – Wikipedia

Of the three most popular social media sites, Facebook uses the most complicated algorithm system, having evolved considerably since the advent of the ‘Like’ feature in 2007.

The algorithm, which accounts for hundreds of variables including who posted/type of content/level of interaction with the post/recency of post, then calculates a single digit relevancy score for each post; these posts are then classified in order of relevancy, which determines how they appear in each person’s news feed.

These relevancy scores are also given to advertisements, based on positive and negative feedback.

The News Feed algorithm was changed in 2015 to also be able to give more control to the users themselves; prior to this, Facebook would analyze what users wanted to use through a calculation of feedback, but now the ‘See First’ option (under the News Feed Preferences tab) is a further tool for customization by users.

Other tweaks made last year include the analysis of how much time the user spends on a post, including video engagement; analysis of video engagement includes enabling audio and high-definition and enlarging the video to full screen.

A notable change made to Twitter algorithms in 2015 is the ‘While you were Away’ feature, determined by user engagement.

Just a few months ago, the ‘Show me the Best Tweets First’ feature was added, which changes timeline content based on relevancy, rather than chronology. While there is no limit to ‘best tweets’, the average is around a dozen, according to Wired magazine.

To remove the ‘best tweets’ option manually, users can constantly manually refresh their feeds or can change their settings under their ‘Profile’ tab (‘Account’- ‘Content’ – ‘Timeline’ – ‘Show Me The Best Tweets’).

Many Twitter users have expressed concerns that Twitter’s algorithm changes will move the platform away from its ‘live stream’ or ‘real time’ feed to a fully algorithmic stream (like Facebook) but Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said they ‘will continue to make Twitter feel more, not less, live’.

Acquired by Facebook in 2012, it wasn’t until 2014 that Facebook began to make changes to the ‘Explore’ tab to display tailored posts. Just this spring, Instagram announced on their official blog, "To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most”.

Optimizing order will apparently be the first order of business, based on four factors – the number of likes and comments on a post; the relationship with the viewer and the user posting; timeliness of the post; and what shares are between the users. Instagram has yet to announce when these changes will roll out.

It all comes down to one basic premise – filtering out poor quality and irrelevant posts and highlighting current, attractive, newsworthy or visually appealing posts.

The essence of social media is relevant, up-to-the-minute posting and constant sharing and linking to other such materials.

The dynamic nature of social media is, in a word, limitless.

By Lindsay Seewalt
Lindsay is an experienced journalist and mother of three whose heart and home is always open to a four-legged friend. With her Corgi, Angie, as household editor-in-chief, Lindsay gives back to the animal planet through the written word on anything and all ado about pets. She is passionate about topics regarding animal welfare and responsible pet ownership, which she aims to instill in both her readers and children to be compassionate animal lovers who are conscious and considerate that furry friends around the globe deserve a voice.

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