Q: Are There More Interesting Ways to Use Facebook?

A: Facebook has more than 1.3 billion monthly active users, so chances are that you are one of them. Perhaps some of you are casual users, occasionally posting, sharing, and checking to see what your friends and family might be up to. Others may be more active, using their Timeline as a journal of activities and a diary of thoughts and feelings, defining themselves for their friends.

Businesses can use their Facebook page as a way of marketing their services/products and giving their customers information about events, discounts, etc. Communities set up group pages to serve as a bulletin board. Organizations have pages to spearhead their causes, whether it’s shelter pet adoptions or fund raising events.

I’ve noticed that more recently, as I visit websites, I’m given the choice to log in using my Facebook account, in order to interact. Practically every site has social media buttons so that you can ‘share’ or ‘like’ content.

This means that all of your internet activities, interests, and likes are assimilated into Facebook’s algorithms. Facebook doesn’t care about you individually, but they do want everything about you to be registered in their database. 

This may sound alarming, but it’s no different from store loyalty cards. I don’t mind running all my Safeway purchases through their membership card, because the store uses that data to give me coupons for things that I’m interested in buying. Thus, the ‘deal’ that I have with Facebook is that I give it information that I am willing to share, and in return it gives me better directed content and targeted ads which I’m free to ignore.

These two screenshots give you an idea of how I personally like to use Facebook. Most functions are accessed through the control panel (#1). Using the search bar (#2), I can bring up Facebook pages relevant to what I’d like to do: If I want to see the store hours and sales for my favorite pet shop, I’d go to their Facebook page. If a hurricane is imminent, going to a local news outlet will give me ‘official’ information as well as postings from their audience. 

Normally, I'm careful about how many pages to 'like', because the more that you follow through liking, the more content will flow into your News Feed (#3). I’d rather go out and get the information that I want, rather than have an overwhelming stream pour in, especially since that puts Facebook in a position of figuring out what to show me in that News Feed, i.e. if there are 1,000 options, Facebook is only going to show 30 in my Feed. Your outside website ‘likes’ and ‘logins’ also impact what flows into your Feed. A good compromise is to 'like' the pages that you support, but realize that it's statistically impossible for Facebook to show you all posts, so visit the pages that you're interested in now and then, to catch up.

Another driving force of what comes into your Feed is the Groups that you are a member of (#4) and whether you’ve classified your ‘Friends’ into the Facebook categories of “Close Friends”, “Family” and “Acquaintances” (#5). Here, the suggestion is that you not take these categories literally. The postings by your “Close Friends” and “Family” will take priority over those from “Acquaintances”, so if you have a prolific aunt who posts ten times a day versus a casual co-worker who puts up insightful items that you always want to catch, you might consider classifying your aunt as an “Acquaintance” and your co-worker as a “Close Friend” even if that’s not the case in ‘real life’. 

Also, you can eliminate things you don’t want to see in your Feed by consistently clicking the drop down arrow on the top right corner of posts and choosing ‘I don’t want to see this’ or ‘Hide all’ from a particular poster. You can ‘Unfollow’ certain Friends without the potential drama of unfriending someone. After I did this type of filtering, I no longer see game play requests in my Feed, as an example.

With the moves that Facebook has made, it appears that they would like you to ‘live in’ their ecosystem; they’d like to get to a point where there’s no reason for you to ever leave their website or app. If you want to search for something, they’ll give you a search bar (powered by Bing), no need to go out to the Google website. You’ll see content from your ‘followers’ and vice versa, so why work with Twitter and their 140 character limitations. 

Instead of visiting blog and news sites, you can see all the ‘Trending Now’ topics right on your Facebook news feed. If instant messaging is what you desire, then they have an app for that too, along with all the gaming that you might want—Farmville was born on Facebook. There are Twitter and Pinterest 'apps for Facebook', so that your friends can view your Twitter or Pinterest posts once you've linked them to your Facebook account, without actually going out to those sites. 

Whether one 'goes along' with Facebook's vision or not is up to each individual. I do find it remarkable that no two News Feeds are exactly alike. Because of the data amassed by Facebook, the power of algorithms can provide you with a good content aggregator, as long as you take the time to ‘train’ Facebook to serve your personal interests. If you're an active Facebook user, I hope that you'll be able to customize your page a bit more after reading this article.