Facebook’s bazaar interface: not for humans

I am no lover of Facebook, and as time goes by, I find that it annoys and frustrates me increasingly. But like others who express their annoyance, I have found it hard to put my finger on what exactly is wrong with it.

In theory, it should be wonderful – a chance to keep in touch with distant descendants, fond friends, and some fascinating acquaintances. It just doesn’t seem to work that way any more, though. And trying to post announcements about these blog articles is a bit like dropping a toy boat in a tidal race: no matter how I try to do it, my posting just gets whisked away into thin ether.

Like Windows (choose almost any version which you dislike), it succeeds in spite of its human interface, which is its ultimate disaster. Instead of conforming to all the well-tried and researched guidelines which have evolved since the dawn of interface design, it is a stochastic bazaar. By that I mean it is an utterly random, completely unpredictable, and consistently inconsistent mess.

You only have to click on your Home menu/button/whatever-the-hell-it’s-supposed-to-be a couple of times to see that. Here is the top of my list of postings, with clicks less than a minute apart, in time sequence.



Clicking on Home is a bit like dipping into a bran tub full of randomly assorted objects. There’s the rest of us with blogs, for example, which dutifully list our postings in time sequence, freshest at the top. So do email clients, unless you’d prefer to work with your fresh arrivals at the bottom. Meanwhile Facebook seems to ignore time sequence and every other logical method of ordering, and tell you what it thinks you should look at next.

The engine behind all this used to be a complex but fairly transparent system called EdgeRank. This has now become so byzantine that it is claimed to take into account more than 100,000 factors in all. So many that, to a simple human, it might appear completely random.

There are several major principles which underlie human interface design, including

  • user control, which puts the user in charge, not the system;
  • consistency, which ensures that things look and work the same all the time;
  • forgiveness, which makes actions easily reversible;
  • the impression of stability in behaviour;
  • good organisation of information.

We have lost control of what appears when we click on Home, the system determines that, and does so in a manner which is not even consistent from one second to the next. If I see a posting which I want to return to later, chances are that Facebook’s stochastic bazaar will have vanished it into the ether the next time that I look. When clicking on Home changes everything so completely, I have no option to return to the previously available postings, to undo its shake of the bran tub or re-evaluation of those 100,000 factors. It is totally unforgiving in that respect.

It has no apparent consistency in behaviour either: I have spent my time, for example, telling it which ‘sponsored’ material I might be interested in, so much like ad tracker systems, it keeps upsetting me by delivering ads for products and services which I expressly told it I was not interested in. The end result is the most disorganised information that I have to battle with – and it does feel like a wrestling match every time – in any sphere or activity.

For the blogger, it means that posting announcements of articles on Facebook is almost a complete waste of time, as (unless you pay to promote your site, perhaps) few of your friends will even get to see your posts. Eighteen months ago, when I started this blog, I used to get quite a lot of traffic from Facebook. Now that traffic seems to have vanished, even for major postings. I have long since abandoned using WordPress’s automatic posting mechanism, which works so well for Twitter, but repeatedly breaks for Facebook.

Has Facebook’s new EdgeRank gone too far and started to alienate and disrupt, perhaps?