Facebook recently announced a new “Trending Topics” feature, to make it easy to see what the world was talking about on Facebook. But what happened to hashtags? Aren’t those supposed to be on Facebook too? What should we use now?
Hashtags Aren’t Working? Or Are They?
Facebook’s hashtags are still less than a year old, but independent research has shown that hashtags just aren’t working. Edgerank Checker shows that posts with hashtags actually receive slightly less attention than posts with hashtags. Which is surprising since most people would presume that Facebook users would click on the interesting hashtag to see what else has been tagged, thus finding your tagged content.
After running the stats against Twitter hashtag usage, Edgerank Checker hit the nail on the head: Most of the Facebook posts to date containing hashtags are promotional, and not something regular people want to share or look into further. This means there is still a future for hashtags on Facebook, but only when the regular users get the hang of them. Until then, it’s just campaign material, joke hashtags and the occasional enthusiastic person with 10 different hashtags to describe their lunch photo (no doubt cross-posted from Twitter or Instagram). Bring on the future and get me out of #susanalbumparty, I say.
Facebook’s hashtags are still evolving in terms of their display page as well as their usage. When viewing a hashtag on Facebook, users will see a “Most shared about #hashtag” section, posts with that hashtag by their friends, followed by a page of chronological updates using the hashtag. It’s not nearly as easy to filter as Twitter is (for instance, you can’t show posts just from people you follow or top contributors), but Twitter has had time to evolve their hashtag view pages somewhat. Facebook may yet improve on this front.
Facebook Trending Topics
Facebook’s new Trending Topics are currently only for selected US users on the desktop web app, but will soon be rolled out worldwide and to mobile apps as well. Since we’ll all soon see these, it’s worth understanding exactly what makes them different from Facebook’s hashtags.
The Trending Topics have been calculated using Natural Language Processing. So every post on Facebook has been analysed carefully to determine the topic behind it. In essence, these Trending Topics are like super-hashtags that no-one needs to manually tag. Top topics will be spotted by how recently they surged on Facebook, plus how many people are currently engaging with the topic.
But it gets better than just pure computing genius. Facebook’s Trending Topics will be shown to us users according to the topics Facebook deduces each of us are actually interested in. Your topics will be chosen according to all the information Facebook has on you, such as: your friends, location, Pages you like, age, etc.
So, while I might see trending topics about Eurovision, most Americans would see trending topics about the Superbowl. I’m spared from the barrage of Superbowl information, and most of the world is spared from the weirdness that is Eurovision. We all win. In fact, US users will very soon get to see said Superbowl trending in action, which is no doubt the reason for the release of this feature right now.
Trending Topics also means that important news items for your and your friends’ local area are likely to feature. For instance, earthquakes in New Zealand affect some of my friends and would no doubt be talked about by many of my Australian friends. I could hope to see these things trending alongside the more local goings-on in Paris. It should also make things of worldwide momentary interest even more notable, such as live rocket launches.
When Trending Topics rolls out, you’ll see three trending posts on the top-right of your news feed, where you’d currently expect to see the News Ticker. And unlike random hashtag names on both Facebook and Twitter, Trending Topics will make it easy to see what the news actually is and why it’s trending.
You should be presented with a news headline on the topic, when available. Clicking it will take you to a page about the topic. The page will show headlines, popular public updates and general chatter about the topic. Plus, you’ll see a selection of related topics to check out. In the future, we should be able to filter Trending Topics, but at the moment, we can at least rest assured that under-18s won’t see inappropriate topics while they are browsing.
So There’s No Choice?
In the end, this means there’s no real need to choose. If you feel like tagging your posts and joining the focused conversation on the topic, by all means do so. If you think hashtags are idiotic and you’d prefer to just have a rant about something, go ahead and do that. Facebook will still work out exactly what you’re talking about and share it with people who care. And there’s nothing remotely creepy about that, is there?
It’s always important to remember that with both hashtags and Trending Topics, public posts (or friends-of-friends posts) are more public than ever. Don’t forget to check your privacy settings before you join the conversation. Even replying to a public comment makes your profile visible to the world, so make sure you’re prepared by re-evaluating your privacy settings.