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The importance of signal / noise ratio, or how Facebook is shooting itself in the foot.

I subscribed to Facebook in January 2008. It was the trendy thing to do, and I found it quite useful. It brought a new type of connection with my friends. I had friends abroad with which keeping in touch was a bit challenging. We could now interact whenever and lightly follow each other's life events.

By then I had the notifications activated, pinging me when I was explicitly mentioned by someone, or on a birthday. The signal / noise ratio was high.

[The signal noise ratio is a number between 0 and 1. The higher, the better, meaning less noise and so a better signal. In my analogy, if all notifications and/or posts present an interest to me, this ratio is 1. If most are of no interest, it is closer to 0. For example my main mailbox is close to zero now, with an overwhelming number of spam.]

So the signal / noise ratio was high, meaning every time I had a notification popping on my phone I would be interested by it. Facebook was a source of news and not at all an annoyance.

Fast forward to today. I read this very interesting article by Beth Skwarecki and suddenly realized tides had turned. Most notifications are of no interest to me anymore and interesting notifications are extremely scarce. Moreover, I only see posts from ~30 of my friends now, leaving the rest no opportunity to keep me up to date. Sometimes I go see the wall of some of my "silent" Facebook friends only to see plenty of updates that I didn't see in my timeline. It's as if Facebook decided that I was not really "friends" with that person. By themselves. Also, when browsing my timeline, the majority of the posts I see are of no interest to me.

The signal / noise ratio had been dropping dramatically. I knew that, but I now realized how terribly low it was. It's no wonder the new generation doesn't want to go to facebook anymore, it has become a spam machine. It doesn't have any appeal anymore.

As a result I did silence the Facebook app on all my devices. And I realized a lot of my friends had already done so in the past months.

Not only did this have kind of silenced my phone but I found myself going 10 times less on Facebook than before. Yes, Beth was right, I clearly didn't need to go there that often. Once of twice a week is just fine.

Of course, I lost a few stuff in the process. I usually now read birthday notifications a couple of days late. Well, it was a good feature, but clearly not worth being harassed by Facebook on a daily basis. Because this is what it has become. Harassment.

So a bit like with a toxic friend, I'm taking distances. And I feel so much better now.

So I guess spamming people with notifications and mixing timeline with commercial content does bring some money. Or even a lot. But if you overdo it, it will break the confidence that your users have in your service. And it's something that is really hard to overturn.

You overdid it.