Should we be up in arms over a Facebook study of its users?


One or two thumbs up hasn’t been the universal response to the latest Facebook news. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

Here’s a look at five things that impact the way we live, work and play.

1. That week in 2012 when Facebook experimented with your emotions.

Depending on whom you ask, a study in which Facebook’s news feed was manipulated to show some users more positive information, and others more negative — is either business as usual or an upsetting and unethical act.

We now live in a big data era where such research will be increasingly common. Data scientists are in high demand and drawing huge salaries. The chance to learn from huge amounts of data — the Facebook study involved 689,003 users — is extremely appealing to researchers and companies that want to better understand their customers and maximize profits.

Everyone wants to learn from the new metrics available in our digital world, whether you’re a news Web site, a social media platform or a giant retailer.

“We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook,” said Adam D.I. Kramer, the Facebook data scientist who co-authored the paper, in an explanation posted on his Facebook page.

Here’s a thorough rundown making sense of the different reactions to the study, via Tumbling Conduct: 

Standard reactions are split: among scholars I observe (a) disturbance and disgust, (b) concerns over communication power, or (c) complaints that the “sexy” large Facebook data set (690,000!) led the authors to oversell a non-result, and the journal to publish a study with methodological issues. Reactions in non-scholarly circles are usually veering between “mmmmm-creepy” and “what’s the fuss?”

I’ll venture a guess that Facebook will continue to experiment with its algorithm but will be more selective about publishing its findings in academic journals, where controversy can loom. Does the news make you feel any different about Facebook?

2. Originality is incredibly rare. Via Lillie Lainoff:

I suspect that most of our good, great and even monumental ideas are not original. Odds are, one of the other 7 billion people in the world has had the same idea for that start-up or phone app you’re about to develop, that movie script or essay you’re about to write. Every idea, including the ones I’m expressing here, can be written thousands of ways. Some of them will be creative, others daring. But they will probably not be original. As Mark Twain once wrote in a letter to Helen Keller, “All ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources.”

3. The resurgence of e-mail newsletters. Via the New York Times:

Newsletters are clicking because readers have grown tired of the endless stream of information on the Internet, and having something finite and recognizable show up in your inbox can impose order on all that chaos. …  At a time when lots of news and information is whizzing by online, email newsletters — some free, some not — help us figure out what’s worth paying attention to.

4. A car built to beat speed cameras. Here’s Justin Moyer on the Hyundai Genesis:

“It knows there is a speed camera there, it knows where the speed camera is and it will adopt the correct speed,” said Hyundai spokesman Guido Schenken at a preview event, according to drive.com.au.“It will beep 800 meters before a camera and show the legal speed, and it will beep at you if your speed is over that,” Schenken said. … The problem: The version of the car that will be available for sale in the United States doesn’t have the anti-speed-camera feature.

5. Disruption doesn’t begin with inferior replacements. Disruption has been a hot topic ever since Jill Lepore’s article questioning Clay Christensen’s research. Over at 5 Myths, Larry Downes and Paul Nunes weigh in:

Especially in industries dominated by digital technology, the disruptors now arrive better and cheaper than existing goods, right from the start — think free integrated smartphone navigation apps vs. stand-alone GPS devices. “Disruptive innovation” is increasingly “devastating innovation,” or what we call “big bang disruption.” Businesses that wait for the disruptor to arrive before figuring out how to incorporate it in their products — as [Clay] Christensen recommended — are already too late.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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Tuan C. Nguyen | June 30