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Facebook hits AI roadblock on news feed

Facebook Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook has announced updates to its Trending feature on the news feed, taking a regionalized approach and moving away from articles personalized to the user.

Prior to this update, articles appearing on the news feed were ‘personalized’ to specific users depending on their interests stated on their profiles. Now articles will be regionalized dependent on trending stories in the area, somewhat going against wider industry trends.

“The list of which topics are trending on Facebook will no longer be personalized based on someone’s interests,” said Will Cathcart, VP of Product Management at Facebook, on the company’s blog.

“Everyone in the same region will see the same topics. This is designed to help make sure people don’t miss important topics being discussed on Facebook that might not show up in their News Feed.”

With the rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning and more complex advertising platforms, the industry on the whole has been moving more and more towards personalization. Platforms such as Facebook collect such a vast amount of data on an individual, algorithms can be written to generate hyper-personalized content which links to not only the user’s interests, but also search history, location and recent comments.

Using various AI technologies, all this information can be analysed to understand the current context and emotion of the user, therefore putting forward relevant content. This latest update, reliant only on the location of the user, does appear to be a step backwards for Facebook.

The Facebook engineering team is certainly working on numerous AI applications and features for the platform, though this move could indicate the content side of things are not going to plan. Are the team having issues with the personalization of content for individual users?

From personal experience, I’ve found the articles to be very hit or miss in terms of relevance, but click bait headlines and content is more of an irritation. Moving back to a location based form of content may indicate the personalized news feed is simply not working.

Another possible explanation is feedback from the users themselves. Facebook has indicated the updates were partly based on feedback from the community, and perhaps this is a sign the users are not comfortable with the intrusive nature of artificial intelligence just yet.

Are you comfortable sharing personal information with companies like Facebook to make AI a truly personalized experience?

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For artificial intelligence to be truly effective, the technology will need vast amounts of personal information on the user; the individual will have to be an open book for the application to be effective to the level which has been promised. Perhaps the community is not yet comfortable enough to share this breadth of information to make the experience truly personalized.

Elsewhere in the Facebook world, former Xiaomi executive Hugo Barra will be going the team to lead all virtual reality efforts. Barra only announced he was leaving the Chinese smartphone brand earlier this week, and the fact Facebook was used to make the news public makes a bit more sense now.

Finally, Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic image might be tarnished slightly, as it would appear he is using his financial might to bully native Hawaiians to sell him their land. Zuckerberg’s charitable side has been well publicized as he has reportedly given away the majority of his wealth to cure all diseases, though according to the Guardian he has turned into somewhat of an aggressive land-baron, forcing the sale of land where inheritance has occurred over generations and lacks formal documentation.

Whether giving away tens of billions to charity gives Zuckerberg the right to bully Hawaiians is debatable, though someone should remind him that gingers don’t fair that well in direct sunlight.

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