Social Fixer can continue fixing some of Facebook’s annoyances
FORTUNE — Have you ever wondered why your Facebook (FB) newsfeed doesn’t just show you everything you want to see — all posts from all your friends and the all the pages you follow in reverse chronological order? You’re not alone, but the reasons remain somewhat mysterious for the site’s insistence on controlling feeds and keeping many posts from users’ eyes, seemingly arbitrarily.
There are other many other annoyances on Facebook as well, like the unnecessary photo lightbox and the ads, which are often incredibly cheesy and spam-like when they’re not downright obnoxious or offensive. And there are features that most people seem to want, but that Facebook refuses to offer, such as the option of being notified when you are unfriended.
Matt Kruse, a project lead for a web developer in East Moline, Ill., decided that he would take matters into his own hands and created Social Fixer, a browser extension that solves all of the above problems and more. For Social Fixer’s many users (Kruse estimates that active users number about 1 million), the extension makes Facebook tolerable in a way it might not otherwise be.
Not surprisingly, this hasn’t sat well with Facebook, which in recent weeks has deleted the Social Fixer page and, Kruse says, threatened legal action against him if he didn’t pull the plug on many of the product’s features. A back-and-forth ensued, and Kruse — who runs Social Fixer as a part-time gig — ultimately agreed to eliminate ad-blocking and the “unfriending” notifications.
The former is certainly understandable. Advertising is how Facebook makes money. No ads would mean no Facebook. “I understand that,” Kruse says, which is why he agreed to pull that feature from the software’s next update. But the “friend tracker,” he says, is among Social Fixer’s most popular features, and he really wanted to keep it, but Facebook was immovable on that one. His interpretation of why Facebook doesn’t want people to know when they’ve been unfriended: “They said they want Facebook to be a positive user experience, and that the friend tracker is a negative experience” he says.
Clearly, users who want to use it and who purposefully install it on their computers don’t find it negative, so it’s hard to know precisely what Facebook’s reasoning is there. The company did not respond to requests for an interview.
Facebook exercises control in other ways. Users of Social Fixer will be glad to know that the software will continue to help them take a bit of that control back. For instance, it enables users to have their news feeds automatically switch from “Top Stories” mode to “Most Recent” mode rather than forcing users to click a button every time. Nobody seems to understand “Top Stories” mode. Facebook has said that it’s all based on algorithms meant to determine which stories will be of interest to users (and of course, which ones will not). But from a user’s perspective, it’s just an arbitrary, small selection of posts. “Most Recent” is better, as it simply puts posts up in reverse chronological order, but those are filtered through an algorithm, too. The only way to make sure you see everything posted by your friends and owners of your “liked” or “followed” pages is to go to each individual page.
“It’s actually gotten worse,” Kruse says of the algorithm’s filtering. Facebook supposedly does it to increase “engagement” (commenting, liking, etc.), which in turn helps it sell more ads and collect more useful user data. But it presents the filtering as being ultimately the best thing for users. “They actually think they’re doing people a favor,” Kruse says. “It’s hubris. They seem to think they know better than users what users should have.” Social Fixer can’t simply turn off the algorithm or enable users avoid it. The auto-switch to “Most Recent” helps somewhat, but “you still don’t see everything,” Kruse notes.
Social Fixer’s popular “tabbing” feature will also be allowed to remain in the next update. The feature allows users to sort posts in various ways — say, putting all posts from work friends in one tab, all posts from family members in another. Kruse says this feature was used by a lot of people during the runup to the Breaking Bad finale — users could set up a tab that collected posts containing references to the show, thus avoiding spoilers.
Perhaps surprisingly given Facebook’s initially draconian actions against Social Fixer — yanking the page, making threats — the compromise seems to have gone mostly in Kruse’s favor. Kruse sent messages to his users through the extension, directing them to off-Facebook blog posts informing of them of what was happening. “I have to think they just kind of got sick of me,” he says.
Since Social Fixer is a browser extension and doesn’t live on Facebook, Kruse could theoretically do whatever he wanted with it, but there would be a high cost. According to him, Facebook’s basis for coming after him was that he was supposedly violating the site’s user agreement. All he would have to do is quit Facebook, and Social Fixer could keep all its features. “I don’t want to quit Facebook,” he says. “I do this because I like Facebook, and I’m trying to make it better.”