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Facebook’s search results are very strange

Fascinated by an abundance of Facebook-bashing in digital and print media lately, I sauntered into that much-loved-and-hated website yesterday, curious to see for myself what the fuss was all about.

I found what I was looking for (namely, something annoying) much sooner than I expected.

When I logged in, Facebook presented me with a new feature, a huge box-style overlay that recommended pages for me to view based on some of the content in my profile. I couldn’t just go into my account — I had to click on something, somewhere in the box, first.

This looked like a good candidate for my “Annoying Examples” treasure hunt.

Studying the list of links, it seemed that if I had, at some time, indicated any kind of connection with any organization (I’m not sure how deeply they delved into my private profile to pull out this data, but I’m a little uneasy about how far they may have dug), Facebook “offered” me links to pages about those organizations. It seemed they expected me to check them out and, possibly, to indicate “like” on at least some of them.

(NOTE: See the end of this article for all the links to the Facebook Community Pages I refer to in this article. Links within the body of this article will take you to the true home website for each organization.)

One such suggestion from Facebook was a school I once attended, now called Glenlyon Norfolk House. Deciding to test the feature before I complained too much (more) to myself, I clicked on the link, and found myself looking at a page that was filled with information from Wikipedia.

“What kind of a fan page is that for someone to set up?” I wondered. I then observed a couple of oddities on the page that led me to think to myself, “Oh, my… this is not… so… wonderful…”

It was so strange, in fact, that I decided to investigate further, and did a Facebook search to see if there were any other pages — something a lot better than this one — for my old school. Uh… nope. That’s it. Huh. (Yuck.)

End of fascination, back to work.

Early this morning, I received a “My Name is Kate” email from Kate Trgovac with a link to an article by e-moderation called, “Why Facebook Community Pages could be bad news for brands.” This piece is about a new element that Facebook recently added, Community Pages, that is causing quite a stir. In short, Facebook has created a type of page that they (not someone representing the organization) develop and automatically fill with content the Facebook computers draw from Wikipedia, along with comments and links made by Facebook users, about that organization.

e-moderation goes on to explain that the problem with these Facebook Community Pages is that all content, both good and bad and everything in-between, is pulled in, and the organization has no ability to address any of it except to add a comment, just like everyone else. Earlier comments disappear down the line all too quickly as subsequent people add their own notes, but the main content that is drawn in via some unseen algorithm remains ever-present at the top of the page.

So what is an organization to do? Not be part of Facebook? Doesn’t matter: they’ll still pull in any information they can find about your organization from Wikipedia and the Facebook community.

While I was mulling over this new concern, the phone rang. The caller was another parent, wanting to talk about some logistics at my son’s school. Somehow, the topic of GNH School came up. (How do conversations meander so far and wide? We’re not even in the same city as GNH!)

I was uncertain of a detail I thought I had read recently, so I ran a quick Google search to pull up the school page. The information I sought wasn’t immediately there, and I realized I hadn’t even been to the school site lately.

“Hmm… Where did I see that, again? Wait, I was in Facebook yesterday.” I did a search in Facebook. The only page that came up was… yup… that same awful page from yesterday.

Something clicked.

“Wait a minute,” the thoughts bounced around inside my head, “That’s one of those brand new Community Pages, just like what I was reading about this very morning!” (Why did I take so long to connect the dots? Only the strange little data-filing gremlins inside my head, so helpful sometimes and so useless others, could ever know…) (Sigh.)

Now distracted but wanting to stay with the conversation, I shared the information from the Wikipedia entry that appeared in Facebook with the other parent, and she replied by saying she was pretty sure that the information was inaccurate. (Hmm… I guess I was no help after all… I certainly can’t argue a point based on Wikipedia as my source, wonderful as it is for so much non-essential information!)

After finishing my conversation, I went back to the school’s proper website and, this time, noticed their Facebook icon. Curious — dreading, in fact — to see if it would link me to that same, horrible community page, I was very happy when a really nice school Facebook Official Page came up, instead.

Now I had a new puzzle.

Wondering how it was I couldn’t find that page earlier, I did a new search, right from that official school page, to see what results Facebook would give me for the school this time.

Just the community page.

Rinse and repeat.

Still just the community page.

No matter how many times I tried, I could not get the Facebook search function to return the official Glenlyon Norfolk House School Facebook page to me.

So I tried it with another school, Southridge School. (Reminder: Facebook search results for all of these tests are at the bottom of this article.) Same thing happened: I could only get the automatic community page to come up. I tried another one, St. Michaels University School. And yet another, Brentwood College School. (Hmm… Maybe Facebook has a thing about independent schools?)

How about Elgin Park Secondary? OK, wow, this is amazing. How about… um… Oak Bay Secondary School?

“Total FAIL!” as my son would say.

Hmm… How about… Camp Qwanoes. Eureka! Finally, for the first time after all those searches, I got a list of options that included what looks like a “real” fan page. But guess what was at the top of the search results list?

Yup, the deadly-awful community page.

Is the community page really any different than Google or Bing searches? After all, they draw in all content, good bad and indifferent, don’t they? Well, Google doesn’t first create an automatic page for an organization, and then return that page as the only option in searches.

I’m not really quite sure what to do with this new discovery about Facebook’s very strange — and terribly unsatisfying — search results. Actually, it leaves anyone with an organization we care about, and many of us are attached to many of them for many different reasons, with a bit of a conundrum. It seems that we can’t choose not to participate in this media channel, yet we can’t respond effectively, either.

Hmm…

Any ideas about what do about this?

I’m stumped…

ea/

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Update: image removed

About Erin Anne Beirne

I use storytelling and "content marketing" to promote my clients' work. I develop and implement communications strategies using all the on- and offline tools and media at our disposal, publish books and ebooks and market them internationally, or even just simply create a new website and teach the client how to run it. If you have something interesting to say, a valuable service to offer, or an important cause to promote, I'd love to work with you, too!

Comments

  1. Good for you for writing a reasoned, investigative response. My first response is usually deep annoyance or paranoia. This is really interesting – I had no idea what those community pages were all about. I just tried my fav organization on FB (CKUA radio), and fortunately their official page comes up. Interesting though, because the other CKUA pages, which were formed prior to the official one, don’t come up anymore. But at least FB hasn’t created a “community” page yet.

    I’m with Bill – I try to keep all my information out of searches, and as private as possible. The problem is that every time FB finds a new way to share user information, I have to go back into my privacy settings and uncheck the new default settings that allow my information to be shared. I just hate that there’s no real consent.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Bill! I’m glad the read wasn’t too painfully long… 🙂 (whewf!)

    The community pages feature is new, just started at the end of March (30th, I think?). I’m not in most of the communities that they present me with when I log in. And as for the one “official,” human-crafted page I did connect to, why would I then also want to connect to a bottom-of-the-barrel, computer-generated version of a similar page? It makes no sense.

    Worse, it forces me through the multi-step, “I have to uncheck all these possibilities because I don’t want any of them” process every time I log in! (OK, now I’m starting to rant. Stop that.)

    Bill, you are wise to be very selective about whom you add and what you include on your profile.

    (I wonder if someone is quietly developing a much less 1984-ish social networking place we’ll all migrate to en-masse one of these days? Anyone? Now? Please?)

  3. Nothing to be sorry about. I rather enjoyed reading it, only noticing that I never search for people or “things” on Facebook… That’s probably the reason why it never occurred to me that those community pages are auto-filled. And I am not in any community either, so….

    I got onboard reluctantly and mostly only added people that wanted me to be their “friend”….

    Also, never shared my email accounts and contacts with auto-search… Felt like if some probe would be going inside me…

  4. I’m sorry this was such a long post.

    I’m just so uncertain about all of this, I didn’t want to write a true “Freak out, People, Facebook’s sinister!” without describing the process and the investigation I did before deciding I had some very big questions about this new Facebook feature.

    Thanks for seeing it through to the end, if you made it this far!

    ea/

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