Facebreak icon

Breaking Facebook to Make it Better

Jeffrey P. Bigham



tl;dr -- I wrote a Chrome extension that turns off all Facebook notifications, even the ones that you can’t turn off. This “breaks” Facebook, but I like it.

I spend a lot of time on Facebook. I know it has an incentive to keep me there, and wondered who was really winning in the battle for my attention.

List of notifications you can choose to turn off or on

One of the ways Facebook keeps me around is with notifications. Notifications grab for my attention. I post something, get a comment or a like, see the notification, and go check it out. No sooner than I did that, someone else likes or comments, and I check that out. Or, I post a comment, someone replies, and I’m drawn back to comment again. This is almost always a waste of time, but it’s how 20-message threads arguing with somebody I don’t know about politics happen. Over and over for threads I don’t care about. I didn’t feel like I was in control.

So, I broke that part.

Facebook provides a page where you can set and review the many notifications possible on the platform. I started by tweaking the notifications, I turned of all notifications on my phone, I turned on notifications for all the groups that I’m a part of (and quickly turned them back off).

I noticed that there was one category of notifications that you cannot turn off on the web. It’s labeled “Activity that involves you” in the screenshot above. This includes things like when people comment on one of my posts or tags me in a photo. On the surface this makes sense. If Facebook is a communication platform, then you kind of need to know when you’re being communicated with so you can respond.

The Chrome extension I wrote just looks for changes to the little notification button, and if it observes a change it programmatically clicks on the “Mark all as read” link at the top of the notifications list. It only works on the Web, but if you have a browser running, it blocks notifications from appearing on the mobile app too. Better yet, notifications marked as “read” don’t even show up at all, so you have to go searching for responses if you want to see them.

I’ve used it for about a week now. I don’t go searching for responses, and I have to say I have not missed out on anything because of it. I can go to Facebook when I want, and more easily leave when I intend to do so. Probably people with more self-control have always been able to do this. But, I find this extension makes it incredibly easy.

Of course, I could also just stop going to Facebook altogether, but I don’t think that’s what I want. I tried one of those extensions that blocks Facebook or delays Facebook loads. But, that was just annoying because sometimes I really just want to go to Facebook or need to go to Facebook to chat with someone. I think breaking Facebook’s hold on my attention is better.

Going forward, I plan to keep this installed, so don’t expect me to respond to your comment or like on my post. Maybe I’ll find other things to break or other platforms to make better.

FaceBreak Chrome Extension
FaceBreak GitHub Page

This page and contents are copyright Jeffrey P. Bigham except where noted.
Blog posts are not intended to be final products, but rather a reflection of current thinking and/or catalysts for discussion, like tweets but longer.