Facebook is out with a new report collecting the most popular posts on the platform, responding to critics who believe the company is deliberately opaque about its top-performing content.
Facebook’s new “widely viewed content reports” will come out quarterly, reflecting most viewed top News Feed posts in the U.S. every three months — not exactly the kind of real-time data monitoring that might prove useful for observing emerging trends.
With the new data set, Facebook hopes to push back against criticism that its algorithms operate within a black box. But like its often misleading blogged rebuttals and the other sets of cherry-picked data it shares, the company’s latest gesture at transparency is better than nothing, but not particularly useful.
So what do we learn? According to the new data set, 87% of posts that people viewed in the U.S. during Q2 of this year didn’t include an outside link. That’s notable but not very telling since Facebook still has an incredibly massive swath of people sharing and seeing links on a daily basis.
YouTube is predictably the top domain by Facebook’s chosen metric of “content viewers,” which it defines as any account that saw a piece of content on the News Feed, though we don’t get anything in the way of potentially helpful granular data there. Amazon, Gofundme, TikTok and others also in the top 10, no surprises there either.
Things get weirder when Facebook starts breaking down its most viewed links. The top five links include a website for alumni of the Green Bay Packers football team, a random online CBD marketplace and reppnforchrist.com, an apparently prominent portal for Christianity-themed graphic T-shirts. The subscription page for the Epoch Times, a site well known for spreading pro-Trump conspiracies and other disinformation, comes in at No 10, though it was beaten by a Tumblr link to two cats walking with their tails intertwined.
Yahoo and ABC News are the only prominent national media outlets that make the top 20 when the data is sliced and diced in this particular way. Facebook also breaks down which posts the most people viewed during the period with a list of mostly benign if odd memes, including one that reads “If your VAGINA [cat emoji] or PENIS [eggplant emoji] was named after the last TV show/Move u watched what would it be.”
If you’re wondering why Facebook chose to collect and present this set of data in this specific way, it’s because the company is desperately trying to prove a point: That its platform isn’t overrun by the political conspiracies and controversial right-wing personalities that make headlines.
The dataset is Facebook’s latest argument in its long feud with New York Times reporter Kevin Roose, who created a Twitter account that surfaces Facebook’s most engaging posts on a daily basis, as measured through the Facebook-owned social monitoring tool CrowdTangle.
By the metric of engagement, Facebook’s list of top-performing posts in the U.S. are regularly dominated by far-right personalities and sites like Newsmax, which pushes election conspiracies that Facebook would prefer to distance itself from.
The company argues that Facebook posts with the most interactions don’t accurately represent the top content on the platform. Facebook insists that reach data, which measures how many people see a given post, is a superior metric, but there’s no reason that engagement data isn’t just as relevant if not more so.
“The content that’s seen by the most people isn’t necessarily the content that also gets the most engagement,” Facebook wrote, in a dig clearly aimed at Roose.
The platform wants to de-emphasize political content across the board, which isn’t surprising given its track record of amplifying Russian disinformation, violent far-right militias and the Stop the Steal movement, which culminated in deadly violence at the U.S. Capitol in January.
As The New York Times previously reported, Facebook actually scrapped plans to make its reach data widely available through a public dashboard over fears that even that version of its top-performing posts wouldn’t reflect well on the company.
Instead, the company opted to offer a taste of that data in a quarterly report and the result shows plenty of junk content, but less in the way of politics. Facebook’s cursory gesture of transparency notwithstanding, it’s worth remembering that nothing is stopping the company from letting people see a leaderboard of its most popular content at any given time — in real-time even! — beyond the its own fear of bad press.
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Amazon’s AWS logs third outage this month, affecting Slack, Epic Games Store, Asana and more
Amazon’s crucial web services business AWS is experiencing problems today, with issues affecting services like Slack, Imgur, and the Epic Games store for some users. It’s not looking good if you’re working from home, with some Slack users unable to view or upload images, and work management tool Asana also hit by the outages. As of 6:13 AM PST, Amazon said it had restored power to affected servers, but users may still experience issues going forward.
In an incident update, Slack said its services were “experiencing issues with file uploads, message editing, and other services.” Asana said the problems constituted a “major outage,” with “many of our users unable to access Asana.” Epic Games Store said “Internet services outages” were “affecting logins, library, purchases, etc.”
It’s the third time in as many weeks that problems with AWS have had a significant effect on online services. Two incidents earlier this month involving AWS ended up knocking out a huge array of platforms and products, taking out streaming sites like Netflix and Disney Plus as well as smart home devices like security cameras from Ring and Wyze.
Today’s outages seem less widespread but still notable, with some users unable to access services entirely and others merely experiencing intermittent faults. DownDetector.com shows reports of issues with the platforms mentioned above, as well as news aggregator Flipboard, online learning site Udemy, dating app Grindr, streaming service Hulu, and IoT services from Honeywell, Life360, and Samsung’s SmartThings.
The official AWS service health dashboard blamed the issues on power outages in a single data center, affecting one Availability Zone (USE1-AZ4) within the US-EAST-1 Region. At 6:13 AM PST, the company said it had restored power to the data center and was making progress recovering the affected instances. However, users will likely continue to notice the effects of these outages for a while longer while systems are updated and restored.
Update Wednesday, December 22nd, 8:36AM ET: Updated story to add responses from affected services.
Update Wednesday, December 22nd, 9: 34AM ET: Updated story to note that AWS has restored to power to the affected data center.
The NLRB decision against Amazon was correct and shows the need for stronger labor laws
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB ruled last month that Amazon had cheated to defeat a high profile union organizing campaign.
It found that Amazon violated federal labor laws during its anti-union campaign at a Bessemer warehouse, Ala. earlier this year. This will result in a do-over election.
The NLRB criticized Amazon’s “flagrant disregard” for federal union election rules and stated that the management had “essentially highjacked” the process and given the impression that it was in control of the outcome.
Last week, Kirsten Swingingen, the head of the virulently antiunion Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, published a misleading op ed in The Hill about the NLRB ruling.
Let’s first be clear about the reasons why Amazon was ordered to rerun its election by the NLRB.
According to the op-ed, Amazon installed a mailbox in order to make voting easier. However, the NLRB repeatedly told Amazon that it couldn’t have onsite voting. After the company pushed for it, and then unsuccessfully appealed against the NLRB decision. In a stunning act of arrogance, Amazon’s top managers ignored these clear instructions and forced the United States Postal Service to install an onsite mailbox just before the election period. A senior USPS manager stated that this was the first instance in his many decades of service when it had set up a “cluster mailbox” for a single customer due to the upcoming NLRB elections.
After being told by the USPS to not place stickers on the mailbox, Amazon covered the mailbox with a marquee with large slogans. The USPS replied, ” Surprise” when asked how he felt about Amazon’s disregard for clear instructions. Moreover, the NLRB discovered that Amazon’s management engaged in illegal monitoring of workers’ voting intentions.
These charges are serious, considering the overwhelming evidence of illegal activity. It would be surprising if NLRB did not reverse the tainted election. This would be a message to employees that the law doesn’t apply to them if they have the wealth, resources and ability to bully them if it was in the way of Amazon’s illegal conduct.
The NLRB Hearing officer and its Atlanta-based Regional director made the decision to reverse the tainted vote. Neither of these people are political appointees – instead, they are career lawyers or “former employees” as the op ed misleads. Swearingen instead resorts to misleading tropes regarding “Big Labor” in order to describe a small, but determined union, the Retail Wholesale & Department Store Union. This union is up against Amazon, one of the most powerful and wealthy corporations on the planet. Bessemer was not the first to find Amazon guilty of illegal anti-union behavior. The NLRB found Amazon in violation of its laws.
It is important to correct a blatant lie about the Protecting the Right to Organize legislation (PRO Act), currently pending before the U.S. Senate. Incorrectly, the op-ed states that the PRO Act “potentially eradicates secret ballot elections” but allows for “card certification” of unions. This is essentially recognizing unions only after authorization cards are signed by the majority of workers, as practiced in many rich democracies.
To be clear, the Pro Act does not mention card check certification. The author created this provision to support her extreme anti-union views. The PRO Act would ban mandatory anti-union “captive audience” meetings- forcible listening sessions. According to Amazon’s own testimony, these were conducted thousands of times at Bessemer. It also imposes harsher penalties on corporations like Amazon who violate workers’ right to choose a union.
The op-ed also states that “Big Labor… succeeded in pushing Democrats to include PRO Act policies into the budget reconciliation bill.” However, the bill only contains the PRO Act provision. This includes the much-needed financial sanctions for corporations such as Amazon that repeatedly violate workers rights.
The NLRB was right to reverse the Bessemer election that was fundamentally tainted due to Amazon’s conduct. The Bessemer campaign demonstrates that the NLRB needs to have more options. As it stands, the law is too toothless for a massively powerful, incredibly wealthy, and frequently illegal corporate bully. The Senate should immediately pass the PRO Act.
Amazon Alexa SEO Tools Is Closing
Alexa.com announced that it will be retiring its marketing services after 25 years. Founded in 1996, Alexa was subsequently acquired by Amazon in 1999. It was initially known for providing rankings based on traffic measured through a toolbar but Alexa eventually expanded to provide a full suite of marketing products including site auditing and backlink checking.
Screenshot From Alexa Content Marketing
Alexa.com provides a full suite of search marketing tools. However what it’s mainly known for is their Alexa Rank.
Alexa Rank is a metric that offers a measurement of site popularity.
In the early 2000s the data was collected via an Alexa toolbar that users downloaded and surfed with. The toolbars collected web traffic information from the users which fed into the Alexa Rank site popularity metric.
Web publishers could also install a script on their site that reported traffic which could then be used to raise their Alexa Rank scores.
The Alexa Rank scores were generally viewed with suspicion because some people claimed that installing the toolbar and visiting ones own sites could result in dramatically raising the Alexa Rank score.
Another criticism of Alexa Rank was that the data was more relevant for Asian countries than in English speaking countries. This was based on the rumor that the Alexa toolbar use base was heavily weighted towards users in Korea and not users in English speaking countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
The negative reputation of Alexa Rank and anything offered by Alexa was sealed by 2005.
One search marketer in a 2005 forum discussion remarked:
“Isn’t it time for Amazon to throw in the towel on Alexa? For a company that does so many things well, Alexa is really a blight on their reputation. Why would they want to be associated with such garbage.”
Nevertheless, use of the Alexa Rank metric continued to be used by a dwindling amount of search marketers.
For example, to this day there are some companies that offer affiliate programs and use Alexa Rank to determine the popularity of potential affiliate partners and will not accept affiliates whose websites do not reach a minimum Alexa Rank popularity threshold.
Alexa Was More Than A Site Popularity Ranking Metric
It might come as a surprise to many that Alexa offered a complete suite of search marketing and analytics programs.
For some reason the Alexa suite of online marketing tools, which included a backlink checker, was almost kept as a secret, with apparently no outreach to the search marketing community or seemingly no promotional activity to speak of.
Alexa crawled the entire Internet and for many years provided snapshots of the Internet to Archive.org. It’s backlink information was extensive.
Because of that it was able to offer services like showing which backlinks competitors have in common, including as many as ten competitors at a time.
Screenshot Of An Alexa Backlink Information Page
The Alexa $149/month plan offered:
- Content Exploration
- Competitive Content Analysis
- Topic Research
- Top Publishers by Topic
- Competitive Analysis
- Competitor Keyword Matrix
- Keyword Difficulty Tool
- Keyword Share of Voice
- Organic Keywords
- Paid Keywords
- Site Audits
- On-Page SEO Checker
- Competitor Backlink Checker
- Backlink Checks
- Audience Analysis
Alexa announced that it will all be going away on May 1, 2022.
The announcement was short and with no explanation as to what led to the decision.
“Twenty-five years ago, we founded Alexa Internet. After two decades of helping you find, reach, and convert your digital audience, we’ve made the difficult decision to retire Alexa.com on May 1, 2022.
Thank you for making us your go-to resource for content research, competitive analysis, keyword research, and so much more.”
Alexa offered a powerful suite of SEO and marketing tools and it’s sad to see them go away.
Many people didn’t know about the tools and perhaps it might still be around if it had been promoted better.
Official Alexa.com Announcement
Your Audience Isn’t Really Interested in ‘Just the Facts’ Anymore [Rose-Colored Glasses]
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