Staying Sane on Facebook

Love it or hate it, Facebook is here to stay. I find the default News Feed of Facebook to be a firehose that sucks ones time and attention with needless updates. To stay sane, I have done the following:

  1. Un-friended a lot of friends from my Facebook. For professional networking, there is LinkedIn anyway, so we can stay in touch there if needed.
  2. Turned off notifications from a lot of my friends. These are folks who I want to stay friends with, but have no time for their updates. I know it sounds evil, but admit it, you have such friends too. Lots of them. And there are only so many hours in a day.
  3. Turned off notifications from almost all the Facebook applications that my friends (ab)use. I know Zuckerberg hates me! 🙂

I am interested in only the life updates and photos from a core set of friends that I care most about. This is what I set to achieve with the above measures. But despite this, this tweaked Facebook News Feed still has some niggling problems:

  • Facebook does not show the updates strictly ordered by time. Instead, it uses some infernal algorithm to randomly pop up updates, comments and likes onto the feed whenever it pleases. Some updates are stuck in my feed for days or weeks when folks are commenting or liking them. This is surely by design, as it is in Facebook’s interests to keep users hooked onto mundane happenings of their friends and to spend increasing amounts of time on the site. There is no option to display or sort the items in the feed by time (latest to oldest).
  • What is even more irritating is that Facebook chokes the News Feed with activities that friends do on the items of FOAFs (friend-of-a-friends). This is again by design and is meant to get users to increase their network by friending FOAFs and strangers and waste time on Facebook. AFAIC I do not give a damn what my friend goes and does to his friends who I do not know. There does not seem to be any option to turn off FOAF activities from the feed.

Thankfully, it is still possible to have a friends-only time-sorted news feed and thus stay sane on Facebook. This handy tip comes via my friend Deepak.

  1. Create a friends list and add only the friends whose updates you care about to that list.
  2. To view the News Feed of this friends list click on its name under Friends, on the right side of your Facebook. Notice that this feed has updates only from the friends on the list (no FOAF activity) and it is sorted correctly by time.
  3. Make it a habit to stop visiting the main Facebook page and visit this friends list news feed instead. One way to achieve this is to bookmark the friends list newsfeed URL in your browser and turn it into a keyword bookmark. Say the keyword is fb, you can now type fb in the addressbar whenever you feel the urge to see Facebook updates from your friends.

The basic idea is to know what your friends are doing, but not spend too much time doing this. This is somewhat like Inbox Zero for Facebook updates. 🙂

Despite all these measures, the number of one’s friends on Facebook keeps increasing all the time. So, make it a habit to cut off those friends from your list who get exceedingly noisy with their updates. And it goes without saying that one should turn off notifications from every single application that is irritating.

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