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Vadim Lavrusik Rss

So Facebook is everywhere? Well, its content needs some context

Posted on : 04-28-2010 | By : Vadim Lavrusik | In : Facebook, Social Media

Tags: , , , , ,

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Facebook has a problem: displaying user activity in a non-contextual way. Right now your recent activity displays on your wall whether you like it or not. For some people this causes dating problems, and others they simply take in bite-sized information about their friends friending so-and-so or “liking” this and that story without any contextual information as to why.

And now this interaction is available with content across the Web, such as liking or commenting on articles — something that news organizations like CNN and Washington Post have jumped on. The problem is the content lacks context. Similar to how Jay Rosen talks about news online needing context for us to better digest it, social media does as well.

Facebook needs a “social nut graph” – a way for users to provide their friends with contextual information about their recent activity. Something that is an optional way for users to include a bite-sized piece of information along with any activity before it is published. Or it should change some of the language in recommending posts, such as killing the “like” and using something more specific such as “recommend.” If we are truly in “the age of Facbeook,” then the social giant needs to do a better job of allowing us to creating contextual content.

The Problem: Little Context, Mixed Language

The problem right now is that users engage in activity, say “liking” a post, without much context as to why they like it. Also, what does “recent” in recent activity actually mean. It doesn’t tell you when the different actions occurred, though it’s assumed it is the most recent activity. Because Facebook has opened up to spread its connectivity throughout the web, this lack of context will now be available on other sites too.

‘Like’
Though the “like” buttons do have a low-barrier and are easy for users to use. However, in the case of integrating these buttons on news sites, they create an even great problem of context. When someone “likes” a post, say, about deaths in Iraq, people will usually throw a fit about why in the world would someone like such a tragedy, but in reality they are referring to the reporting of the event, or something entirely different.

This is just one of many examples in the disfunctionality of the “like” button. Sites like CNN.com are shying away from the default “like” but using “recommend” — something much more specific in its meaning for readers and Facebookers seeing the nuggets in “recent activity.”

Note the last comment on this CNN Facebook link. People constantly have a hard time grasping the reasoning behind why other users "like" something.

Mixed Language
With Facebook’s new features, the “liking” functionality is even more blurred. Now if you “like” a page, for example, it will not only display in your profile, but now you have basically “fanned” the page. It’s activity will now be in your news stream. This mixed functionality may prove to be confusing to users, but will likely be a benefit to page owners and Facebook as a result of the accidental connectivity between users and pages.

Replying to Individual Comments
The conversation is fragmented. When individuals are commenting on links to news stories, they often engage in conversation with one another, but it is disconnected. People have taken to simply replying to individuals by calling them out by name, though their comment might not even be visible in the thread or ever viewed by the person they are replying to. Facebook needs the to create the ability for users to interact with specific pieces of content by creating a reply functionality.

What else is missing?

Solutions: Social Nut graph, Replying

The Nut Graph
There is the plugin for a “dislike” button, but that hasn’t been integrated across the social platform, and that would create more problems rather than solving our current ones. Perhaps we need a nut graph with some of this social activity. A nut graph in a news article is usually in the top 3 paragraphs of the story, and explains the news value of the story, usually bringing it into context. Technically, people can “like” a piece of content and use the commenting functionality to explain why. However, few people actually seem to do this. Why not integrate a “social nut graph” functionality that enables users to attach a quick comment to their “like.” This would not only create more quality content, but also bring more value to the “like” button.

I am guessing fewer people would begin clicking the “like” button if there was a nut graph comment that was mandatory with it, but that could have the potential to really bring some weight to “liking” something. People would think twice before truly putting their stamp of approval on something, and explain why.

Changing Terminology to “Recommend”

CNN.com changed the language of their buttons to say "recommend."

I’m not going to ask Facebook to change the language of the functionality of buttons from “like” to “recommend.” But sites using the plugin on their site should consider changing the language to “recommend” to give their readers more guidance. Facebook could have also considered changing the language from “fan” to “follow.” I know what you’re thinking, this sounds a lot like Twitter and Facebook wouldn’t wanna go and copy that language.

But why not? Plenty of other startups, like Tumblr for example, have taken that terminology because it is familiar for users and clearly let’s the user know what the action includes. Hitting “like” on a content page doesn’t give me any clues to what will happen following the action, except for the fact that I am “like” the page.

Replying to Individual Comments
This makes logical sense: why not create a way for users to engage with one another more easily? Creating a reply functionality would also make it easy for the conversation to continue. In blogging comments, if someone replies to one of your comments you have the option of getting an e-mail notification. This makes the conversation easier. Facebook content needs the same functionality.

What are other solutions to Facebook’s context problem?

Comments (8)

I like the theory behind forcing a comment to go with a “like,” but how would you ensure that the comment itself has value? Depending on how you build the feature, a string of !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! could be accepted as a comment, but that doesn't offer the context you're talking about.

Good point, Alex. I'm not sure what the perfect fix would be for this and some people would game the system. Ultimately, I still think that it would at least improve the current functionality.

[…] able to create meaning out of it. Columbia grad student Vadim Lavrusik made the case for a “social nut graph” that gives context to this flood of data and allows people to do something more substantive […]

[…] able to create meaning out of it. Columbia grad student Vadim Lavrusik made the case for a “social nut graph” that gives context to this flood of data and allows people to do something more substantive […]

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