New Digital Tools

What it’s like to use Facebook without numbers.

5 years later and Demetricator add-on is still key to productivity.

How Ben Grosser’s Facebook Demetricator works (Before and After)

Popularity on social networks is addicting. Those at Facebook know this well. It’s the reason why every post, share, notification, and interaction we experience on Facebook is accompanied by metrics: numbers that show how many people have interacted with us, or how many new friend requests or notifications we have received.

From a practical perspective, metrics are rather useless. We don’t need to know when exactly a friend has shared their last post and how many people have liked our new profile picture.

Or do we?

It all comes down to social interaction

A recent report by GlobalWebIndex shows that the top 3 reasons for using social media are staying in touch with what your friends are doing (42%), keeping up-to-date with news and current events (39%), and filling-up spare time (39%).

Most of us use social networks to connect with friends and share with them our achievements and, sometimes, pitfalls in life. We want others to know where we’ve gone on vacation this year and what song we liked on the radio the other day, while also keeping ourselves updated with what’s going on around our area and beyond. The greater the response, the more motivated we feel.

On this matter, Facebook developers are playing with our self-esteem, constantly making us conscious of what we’ve missed and what we’ve gained through metrics, a careful design choice aimed at increasing interactions with the website, other people, and companies through advertising — and here’s where Facebook revenue comes into place.

Facebook Demetricator

Quality over quantity

5 years ago, Benjamin Grosser — artist and faculty member at the University of Illinois — published a tool that would wipe away all Facebook metrics and replace those with less quantifiable data. The Facebook Demetricator plugin can replace, for instance, “51 people like this” with “People like this”, or [person] posted this “2 hours ago” with “Recently”. In an interview with arts organisation and new-media platform Rhizome, Grosser states:

“Would we add as many friends if we weren’t constantly presented with a running total and told that adding another is “+1”? Would we write as many status messages if Facebook didn’t reduce its responses (and their authors) to an aggregate value? In other words, the site’s relentless focus on quantity leads me to continually measure the value of my social connections within metric terms.”

Originally released as an open source browser extension, it is still under constant development by users trying to keep up with Facebook’s mysterious news feed algorithm.

Quality instead of Quantity (Facebook Demetricator: before and after)

How the software works

On a simplistic level, the Demetricator plugin “runs within the web browser, constantly watching Facebook when it’s loaded and removing or replacing the metrics wherever they occur. […] The demetrication is not a brute-force removal of all numbers within the site, but is instead a targeted operation that focuses on only those places where Facebook has chosen to reveal a count from their database.” (Ben Grosser)

In order to efficiently search the site’s HTML for any metrics, the Demetricator makes extensive use of Javascript libraries. This does not interfere with Facebook delivering data to its users because it runs above every other layer of the website.

The source code for the software is open source and available on GitHub.

Is the Demetricator a tool for me?

I found out about Grosser’s project just this week and was instantly eager to try it out myself and see how the experiment would have turned out in my case.

As a heavy social media user, I spend on average more than 1 hour a day between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms. Anything that is designed to make my eyes shy away from social networks can only be openly welcomed.

After a couple of days using the Demetricator, I found myself reacting less to posts and actually focusing on what people would write or share. Like counts and timestamps have demonstrated their inutility to establishing meaningful connections. That being said, I will be definitely sticking to it, at least for a good while.

Ben Grosser’s latest Facebook interactive tool is called Go Rando: a browser extension that automatically chooses for you one of the six Facebook reactions each time you react to a post. Find more about Ben’s work on his website.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, photographer, and Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.