February 22, 2013

Facebook Runs Afoul of Bugs; Page Reach Counts Tainted for Months


A recent project undertaken by Facebook, designed to speed up its iOS and Android applications, had a little more impact than it had expected, and not a particularly positive one. The retooling caused news feed post data to be unexpectedly removed, and in turn, led admins to believe that posts reached much fewer people than they actually did. The fixes for this set of bugs have already started to roll out, and as a result, correct data for Page Insights should start landing this Monday.

Interestingly, the issue was primarily one of reporting for Page Insights. While the correct numbers of people saw the posts, and fans received the posts, the only issue was in the number reported back to page owners. Where several hundred fans may have seen a post, the reach was reported as a much lower number. Ad Insights, meanwhile, has been behaving properly throughout this interval, as there are several monitoring systems in place on Ad Insights to ensure that the correct numbers are covered in each case. Therefore, no one was undercharged — or overcharged — for ads during this interval, and that seems to be the case as well for both App Insights and Payment Insights.

What seems to have happened was that Facebook, seemingly as part of its commitment to become a more mobile operation, took out some of the information in news feed stories. This sped up its total flow by requiring less information overall be transmitted. While this did speed up the feed, it also had the added impact of, inadvertently, removing the markers that Page Insights was using to count the total number of viewers on each post. This meant that sizable numbers of viewers were actually going unreported, making view counts look like they were falling to varying degrees. Progressively more users went to the new apps, which had removed the Page Insight markers, and in turn the counts continued to show that they were going down while actually not going down at all.

Admittedly, this doesn't do a lot of damage. It may have reduced the value that some businesses thought their Facebook sites held, and that may have reduced advertising spending to match. After all, some may have reasoned, why put money into a site that's not reaching the kinds of numbers it used to?

But where this may do more damage is to Facebook itself. With the IPO and its accompanying issues still in recent memory for a variety of users, Facebook making mistakes like this are likely to color perception against the company. We've already seen how even good numbers and a forward-looking plan weren't enough to keep Facebook's stock price from falling; active mistakes with user data can't be a help.

However, it's worth noting that Facebook notified its users about the error right at the same time it developed the fixes necessary. Some may be offended that Facebook waited this long to notify the users, but at the same time, there will likely be plenty who are happy to see that the mistakes are ready to be fixed basically at the same time they're hearing about the problems.

Mistakes happen, and software inherently has a potential to fail occasionally. What's important is the response to these mistakes, and Facebook's was a reasonably sound response.




Edited by Rich Steeves



Related Tags

Facebook    Software    Apps
       

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