Posted July 15, 2013 3:19 pm by with 2 comments

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510372_cinema_hall“Posting to a social network site is like speaking to an audience from behind a curtain. The audience remains invisible to the user: while the  invitation list is known, the final attendance is not.”

That quote comes from a Stanford University study called “Quantifying the Invisible Audience in Social Networks.” I’d like to say I discovered the paper while catching up on my academic reading over the weekend. The truth is, I discovered it while catching up on the world according to BuzzFeed.

After reading “22 Reasons Why You’ll Want Persian Cats On Your Apocalypse Team” I moved on to “The Number Facebook Doesn’t Want You To See.”

According to author Charlie Warzel, the hidden factor is the number of people who saw your post. Pages owners see this number, but the average user who posts to a personal profile does not.


Warzel thinks it’s because Facebook knows the truth and you won’t like it. The truth being that most of the people who see your posts don’t care.

According to the Stanford study, most people underestimate the number of folks who saw their post because they base their estimate on the “likes” and comments. This sounds like a good thing — higher than you imagined is better right? But the study goes on to say that underestimating is what helps us get through the day with our egos intact.

Imagine you posted an update about your new job, knew that 300 people saw your post but only 2 people left a congratulatory comment. If you didn’t have the stats, you could convince yourself that Facebook hid your post from 298 of your friends, that’s why they didn’t comment. Because Facebook does that – it delivers posts based on what it thinks you want to see.

Which brings us to the bigger issue. I really don’t care how many people read my personal posts. But I do wish Facebook would stop monkeying with my news feed. If I follow a person or brand and they post a message, I want to see it in the order in which it arrived.

Facebook developer Lars Backstrom says no one cares about Facebook viewing stats and that’s why Facebook doesn’t offer them.

Our conclusion after testing it: people are way more interested in seeing *who* liked their posts, rather than just the number of people who saw it. In fact, in all of the thousands of pieces of feedback we receive about News Feed each month, virtually no one has asked to see this information. If we saw enough people asking for this, we would definitely consider building it into the product. But, from what we’ve seen, including the raw numbers isn’t worth the space it would take up on the screen.

He goes on to talk about the news feed order:

Our ranking certainly isn’t perfect and we are continually refining it, but we’ve run many tests showing that any time we stop ranking and show posts in chronological order, the number of stories people read decreases and the amount of likes and comments people produce decreases. That’s not good for our users or for Facebook.

Interesting. And I like how they group together what’s good for Facebook is good for the user. I don’t agree. If the people who see my posts can’t be bothered to comment, that’s life. It’s not Facebook’s job to protect me from the truth. From a business perspective, I get it. A social network doesn’t work if it’s not social – so comments and likes are necessary in order to make the place feel active and lived in.

As you can imagine, Mr. Backstrom’s response post is filling up with comments, most of which are complaints about everything Facebook is doing wrong. One woman notes that her personal profile is her brand, so she needs the same stats Pages Admins get. A large number of people simply want to know why they can’t make “Recent” the default order for the news feed and I’m waving my hand for that one, too.

Right now, 289 people have left comments on the post. There’s no indication of how many people actually read it.

What do you think? Should Facebook put viewer stats on personal posts?

  • Sharon Portland

    Yes, Facebook users are more interested in the number of likes and people who made comments because these represent the numbers of who are interested in what you have posted. Many of us though know that more people saw our posts. If I may compare this with Friendster where it has an option for the user to view the people who are viewing his/her profile and some of them doesn’t want the account owner to know they are viewing him/her. And where is Friendster now? I think this is part of Facebook marketing strategy.
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  • Kona Rose