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Facebook AI Social Networks

Inside the Facebook Algorithm Most Users Don't Even Know Exists 130

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the no-one-reads-my-posts dept.
First time accepted submitter catparty (3600549) writes An examination of what we can know about Facebook's new machine learning News Feed algorithm. From the article: "Facebook's current News Feed algorithm might be smarter, but some of its core considerations don't stray too far from the groundwork laid by EdgeRank, though thanks to machine learning, Facebook's current algorithm has a better ear for 'signals from you.' Facebook confirmed to us that the new News Feed ranking algorithm does indeed take 100,000 weighted variables into account to determine what we see. These factors help Facebook display an average 300 posts culled from roughly 1,500 possible posts per day, per user."
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Inside the Facebook Algorithm Most Users Don't Even Know Exists

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  • Bubbles (Score:5, Interesting)

    by i kan reed (749298) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @12:53PM (#47607429) Homepage Journal

    Social media helps keep you in a nice little bubble, where you're never exposed to information you might not like.

    Psychology tells us we(in general) don't like information that challenges our biases. Is anyone else afraid that Facebook and Google are unintentionally driving us all towards ignorance?

    No conspiracy necessary: happy people pay more attention to ads(citation available if anyone cares), they try to make us happy, trying to make us happy keeps us dumb, and it all serves everyone's short term interests, and no ones' long term interests.

    • Before anybody dons the proverbial tin foil hat, consider:

      1. It is not possible to exert mind control over an intelligent and reasonable person simply by throttling their social media streams.
      2. The "stuff you don't like" that it hides is more likely to be worthless drivel than desperate attempts of the suppressed Resistance to unify against The Man.

      This is all speaking as an outsider -- I don't use Facebook and I can't imagine what would make me want to (to each his own, I suppose).
      • Re:Bubbles (Score:5, Informative)

        by Lab Rat Jason (2495638) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @01:07PM (#47607553)

        1. It is not possible to exert mind control over an intelligent and reasonable person simply by throttling their social media streams.

        See: Russia, Iran, Syria, China... need I go on?

        • Those nations don't just censor social media streams (Twitter, Facebook), they also censor regular news media, web sites and public conversations.
          • So... for what percentage of Facebook users is this also true?

            • Sorry, to state this a little more clearly: What percentage of people do you think use facebook as their primary or only source of news? I'd bet the number is pretty high.

              • by bbsalem (2784853)
                Then, we are in deep trouble. I take most of what I see on Facebook with a grain of salt, especially since the blog format doesn't support analysis and discussion. It is intentionally designed not to. So, I read Facebook, even my "friends" and family with the view that everything is biased, especially by Facebook, and I don't reply. I think Facebook is self-limiting. The OP links said as much, The spam burden can't raise much more than it is now. Facebook will probably survive as long as it penetrates into
        • by bonehead (6382)

          He said "intelligent and reasonable" people. And he was right.

          It is, however, trivial to influence stupid and unreasonable people. And there is no shortage of those.

          • What are "intelligent and reasonable people", and what does it mean to "exert mind control"?

            Because a lot of people like to think, "I'm a smart person. You can't just make me do things." That's only kind of true. All of us can be influenced through psychological manipulation. All of us can be tricked into forming incorrect conclusions based on faulty, incorrect, or incomplete information. If I can control what information you have access to over a long period of time, I definitely can have a big influ

            • by bonehead (6382)

              Well, yeah, if you can maintain complete control over the information a person has access to, then, yes, over a period of time you could mold the way they think.

              Nobody has that ability. Not the US govt, not the Iranian govt, and certainly not Facebook. "Reasonable and intelligent people" are able to recognize when they're being fed propaganda, and take it with the appropriate dosage of salt.

              It's the idiots and morons that swallow it hook, line, and sinker. Obviously, that makes these people a very valuab

        • by Optali (809880)
          He said _INTELLIGENT_ You need to be very dumb to think that that what's presented to you by social media is everything there is.
          • by bbsalem (2784853)

            Except of course of what does not reach your awareness and ability to analyze. And if by the design of the feed you are denied the time it takes for the mind to think it through. I have seen bright people suckered in by the way media operate and there is a great deal of technique that we are obviously not informed about which is meant to persuade and manipulate our thoughts, especially the subliminal rapid-fire responses of the Limbic System. These responses can take time to filter into consciousness and b

        • by bbsalem (2784853)

          Yes, maybe the most rationalistic and anti-social among us are the most susceptible to the manipulation since they think that their consciousness is sufficient to protect them from fraud. Unfortunately, most of their brain is spending time processing subliminal messages, which is how Fox News fires up the right-wingers. They have no knowledge of general semantics and are often deluded that they can't be conned. How may engineers would admit that they can be conned?

      • Re:Bubbles (Score:4, Insightful)

        by znrt (2424692) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @02:34PM (#47608193)

        1. It is not possible to exert mind control over an intelligent and reasonable person simply by throttling their social media streams.

        yeah but it's hivemind control. hivemind oriented individuals are a majority, so hivemind control is actually a reality. and a pretty obvious one if you ask me. now for example you may not be buying this bullshit but it is your hive, and you can't escape: these hivelings may be your relatives, your friends, people you like or love. you screwed, bro. in other words: controlled.

        of course the problem itself points to the way out. let's not despair!

    • Will not any ranking necessarily be skewed towards eye catching posts? And who said that what is most eye catching is something you agree with and like? Rather than something you inherently hate and disagree with?
    • Social media helps keep you in a nice little bubble, where you're never exposed to information you might not like.

      Same with slashdot, and most news sites. People find themselves in a bubble one way or other, unless they specifically go looking for other information

      • by bbsalem (2784853)

        This is very dangerous. It is true that is comes from the nice-nice urge of most merchants not to offend customers, but in social media it has gotten out of hand. Sometimes it is intended, everybody must be nice and uncontroversial and avoid PR diasters, but this doesn't serve us will in the area of citizenship and civil discourse which have taken a beating due to the type of mass media and social media we have.

        I place most of the blame for this on the blog, and on Mark Zuckerberg's idea of "Simple" UI d

    • No conspiracy necessary: happy people pay more attention to ads( citation available if anyone cares ), they try to make us happy, trying to make us happy keeps us dumb, and it all serves everyone's short term interests, and no ones' long term interests.

      Just curious; did it take longer to write that than to just provide a copy/paste of the link you had in mind?

      • Because it would involve digging through multiple google scholar searches to find the paper I'm remembering on a few vague mental relationships, checking through several papers to verify that they are/aren't the one I'm looking for, and then dropping them, which takes longer than both that post and this one.

        • Citation please?
          • Re:Bubbles (Score:5, Informative)

            by i kan reed (749298) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @01:35PM (#47607769) Homepage Journal

            Positive Mood and Susceptibility to False Advertising [tandfonline.com]

            Even though you're more aware of the fact that the advertising is false, you're still more likely to form a positive image of the brand as a result of being happy. I have, without being fully informed about "true" advertising, mentally extrapolated that to apply to all advertisements.

            This idea is at least a little corroborated by this older study [jstor.org] which suggests happier moods implies a greater uptake on simple advertising messages.

            • Thank you! That took much less time then me digging through the internet myself!
              • Yeah, no problem. I just only wanted to engage in that effort if someone actually wanted the info.

            • by weszz (710261)

              explains my 4 year old running around the house singing nationwide is on your side...

              The girl is perpetually happy and heard that on the radio, never to be forgotten... along with the "fact" she told me about MLKjr.

              He had a dream, then he died. like Jesus and great grandpa. well yea... but you're kind missing some important parts there... Jesus died in the crosswalk for us.

    • Social media... You mean having friends with a similar worldview? Are we sure social media even makes this worse and not better? Most people interact in real life with very few people because it is expensive to do otherwise. Social media might actually reduce the problem by making it cheaper to interact with more people. Theoretically it could be just more of the same viewpoint, but as n increases, the chance that everyone agrees on everything is much less.

      • No, we're talking about a filtering algorithm applied to your friends, where you don't see things that might be important to challenging you because it makes a small difference in your happiness levels(which, again, influence your advertising susceptibility).

        • Right... and I'm saying... how is that any different than surrounding yourself with friends who all think like you? It's not. In fact, if anything, social media (even filtered) is probably more diverse than the real-life filtering that your average yokel does.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I wish there was an up-arrow to increase your mod points.

      I have nothing to add to the parent other than "well said!"

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Is anyone else afraid that Facebook and Google are unintentionally driving us all towards ignorance?

      No, because only a narrow category of people read Facebook. A larger set uses it to post, but rarely reads. And an even larger set either doesn't use it, or uses it rarely.

      Facebook is big, but it's still niche too. In fact, for all its success, the irony is that it's a total failure and nearly useless (and to everyone, not just some people) as "social" media. (Not that it's useless, just that it's useless

    • by s.petry (762400)

      Social media helps keep you in a nice little bubble, where you're never exposed to information you might not like.

      You don't like or they don't like? It is impossible to know the difference, and the latter is at least as likely as the former (perhaps more so).

      Psychology tells us we(in general) don't like information that challenges our biases. Is anyone else afraid that Facebook and Google are unintentionally driving us all towards ignorance?

      No argument with the first part. The second part I very much disagree with. Huge Businesses and Governments don't do things accidentally, and to believe they have all these "accidents" indicates that _you_ don't want your biases challenged. What you attempting to imply is simply irrational. Huge sums of money are spent on engineering strategies. Claiming anyt

    • by ClintJCL (264898)
      If you think Facebook keeps you in a bubble where you aren't exposed to ideas you don't like, you must have never been on Facebook. Try a day on my feed...
    • by nospam007 (722110) *

      "Is anyone else afraid that Facebook and Google are unintentionally driving us all towards ignorance?"

      If Google+ actually is doing that, it has to do it quickly, before it gets cancelled.

    • Re:Bubbles (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rolfwind (528248) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @02:30PM (#47608165)

      Have you seen so-called "World News" with Diane Sawyer lately on one of the big networks?

      It's embarassing. 3/4 human interest stories at least. Mostly domestic. A few minutes of human interest human interest stories.

      Or when you watch the olympics. Very few competitions anymore on the networks. Especially not when foreigners are competing. And we need everyone's tearjerking backstory now.

      It hasn't always been like this. People don't need social media to stay ignorant. Their own mass media does it for them.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        This might also reflect the fact that more and more people get their in-depth news from the internet and watch TV news to have something on while eating dinner.

        • by Brulath (2765381)

          Which, if you're eating with someone else, tends to prevent any kind of conversation. Conversation at dinner is good; it causes you to eat more slowly and it makes you a bit more aware that you're eating, as opposed to being engrossed in the television and mowing through dinner. Both of those help limit food intake, and conversation helps promote a bit of family interaction that might otherwise be lacking.

          That and you don't have to think about the latest Paris Hilton replacement because you hear about it ev

      • Sure, there are worse alternatives also driven by advertising profit.

    • by lorinc (2470890)

      You can think of it as a bias toward exploitation over exploration, which will inevitably leads us to a local optimum from which it will be very difficult to escape.

    • You might filter your news (in the conventional, informational sense) feed that way, but you filter your Facebook feed according to people you think are interesting. If you only interact with people who are like minded, and that's not unlikely, *you* are creating a filter bubble, not FB. But it's also not how people tend to use FB. You probably have some "friends" who post idiotic rants or divisive jokes, and if you ignore them you are training FB to not show them, but you might also hit "like" or comment o

    • happy people pay more attention to ads(citation available if anyone cares)

      Please. It seems logical, but I'd like to see some data.

    • Social media helps keep you in a nice little bubble, where you're never exposed to information you might not like.

      And that's different from Slashdot and it's all-to-often groupthink driven moderation system... how?

    • I think that is generally the way people operate in the real world anyway. You could look at a broad category like 'men' or 'women' who have their broad topics of appeal, from an advertising perspective. But when you get down to more specific cliques like Mormons or thrash-punks, they are so segregated as to not be aware of each others existence. They have their own systems that, if they perform well in, will keep them feeling like happy, productive members. As someone who refuses to define myself in terms

    • by X0563511 (793323)

      I don't think culling baby photo posts counts as encouraging an echo chamber...

  • Human vs. crowd (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mi (197448) <slashdot-2012@virtual-estates.net> on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @12:56PM (#47607453) Homepage

    While each of us is as unpredictable as a molecule, once you put enough humans together, the crowd becomes as predictable as gas. Google, Facebook, Twitter, (/.?) and other companies with massive user bases can do some pretty interesting things with their users.

    Whether it is ethical or not is another story, but it is certainly interesting.

    • Reminds me of Asimov's "psychohistory" from the Foundation series as invented the character Hari Seldon.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org]

      I like to think that there's something to it, but there probably isn't.
      • by mi (197448)

        Reminds me of Asimov's "psychohistory" from the Foundation series as invented the character Hari Seldon.

        Three follow-ups all brought up Asimov. Close, but not quite. Asimov speculated, that in the future it will be possible to predict not just behavior, but history of entire civilizations. Maybe. What I'm talking about today is today's possibility to plan and study ongoing behavior of masses of people.

        Skillful politicians have been doing it for centuries (nay, millennia!) — there is no need for scien

  • Because (Score:5, Insightful)

    by heezer7 (708308) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @12:58PM (#47607465)
    just showing shit in chronological order is too easy.
    • Exactly. I wish Facebook would just leave it alone - I don't want "intelligent" delivery of the posts facebook thinks I want to see - I would rather see a true feed representative of the people in my social network, rather than some secretly curated selection based on inscrutable mechanisms that I have no control over.
      • Well I think the idea is that for 99% of accounts that is not possible. There is more content than you could ever read (1500 posts per day). So FB can either filter out the content based on chronology. Or it can take an educated guess like, he always reads, and often comments on John's posts, so instead of hiding them, we will put them right at the top of his feed when he logs in. And he had never even paused scrolling when confronted with a post from the official Coca Cola page, so maybe he cares less if
        • Re:Because (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Lab Rat Jason (2495638) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @01:28PM (#47607725)

          The trouble here... and the reason I don't use facebook... is that just because I like coke, doesn't mean I "Like" coke. If I want to express my affinity for a product, that doesn't mean I want to be constantly marketed to by that company. Likewise, the sleazy practice of making someone like your product before you can see some kind of content (say a video for example) that has gone viral... but until you watch the video, you aren't sure whether you "Like" (or even like) the product/company... pisses me off.

          Facebook operates under the pretense that it's a good way for you to keep in touch with your friends... but their quarterly financial statements argue for the fact that it is a good way for companies to market to individuals under the pretense of them keeping up with their friends.

          Your description of the myriad ways in which your feed is broken and fails to satisfy you is a proxy for the myriad ways in which Facebook is making money off you.

          • You have control over that though. You can like something and mark as not seeing anything from it. And as far as I have seen companies have public profiles that never require likes to see.
            • by Brulath (2765381)
              You can, but it isn't the default and I'd wager that most users don't know the option exists. So they have to implement filtered news feeds to deal with the users that like everything / friend everyone.
        • Well I think the idea is that for 99% of accounts that is not possible. There is more content than you could ever read (1500 posts per day).

          So FB can either filter out the content based on chronology. Or it can take an educated guess like, he always reads, and often comments on John's posts, so instead of hiding them, we will put them right at the top of his feed when he logs in. And he had never even paused scrolling when confronted with a post from the official Coca Cola page, so maybe he cares less if we filter these out.

          I do not know about you, but I do not want to miss some major announcement for my best friend, simply because I liked coca cola and they posted 20 things after he made the announcement.

          Here are the answers:

          1.) sudo showeverypost. Think it's too much content for me to handle? You're welcome to believe that. Let me decide that, not Mark. If it takes me an hour and a half to sort through everything, then so be it. Either way, I won't see it all.
          2.a) eHarmony style. I couldn't possibly send a request to everyone on eHarmony, so they ask me an hour's worth of questions to help filter the kind of person I'm looking for. Facebook could easily do the same thing, and it'd be worth some people's ti

      • Exactly. It's extremely annoying having FB pick and choose what I see. I keep my news feed on "Most Recent" all the time. But every once in a while, without warning, they pull the ol' switcheroo and change it back to what they think are the "Top Stories". No FB, I actually know everyone in my friends list and I like to keep with with all of them, not just the few I communicate with most.

        • by _xeno_ (155264)

          Exactly. It's extremely annoying having FB pick and choose what I see. I keep my news feed on "Most Recent" all the time. But every once in a while, without warning, they pull the ol' switcheroo and change it back to what they think are the "Top Stories". No FB, I actually know everyone in my friends list and I like to keep with with all of them, not just the few I communicate with most.

          The article actually mentions this: that doesn't do what you think it does. All that does is sort the Top Stories feed in chronological order.

          Users mostly rebelled against this because they peeked behind the curtain and realized that Facebook is indeed controlling the content we see. Naturally, Facebook placated the naive with a button that lets us view posts in chronological order. The illusion remains intact!

          It's still the filtered view.

      • Re:Because (Score:5, Informative)

        by Andy_R (114137) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @01:32PM (#47607751) Homepage Journal

        Exactly, I've found that the only way to get Facebook to work the way it should work â" showing everything posted by people I know and pages I've liked â" is to install the FBPurity browser extension (from fbpurity.com) and to manually select 'receive notifications' from a hidden drop down menu when I 'like' a page.

        The iPhone app just keeps getting worse, it does have the ability to show things in the right order, but it conveniently forgets that setting every time you open the app, and now the app has stopped showing everything after the first few characters when some sends you a message, begging you to install an extra app (but you don't need to, just open facebook.com in the phone's browser and you can read and respond to messages there).

    • by Tog Klim (909717)
      SO FREAKING TRUE!!!
    • by jythie (914043)
      Their argument is that they are trying to optimize for people who have hundreds or thousands of friends, thus pure chronological would be an unreadable stream of posts. People with smaller numbers who actually do want to see each post in order just are not on their radar.
  • This filter, that in my experience has the equivalent discrimination level of crack addicted meth head chimp, only detracts from the feed and explains why I am often saying "FB SUCKS!".

    Thank you, and Facebook sucks.
    • Exactly !

      What's worse is I think they've started dicking around with "most recent" also :(

      ALL I want is POSTS to appear in chronological order and ALL of them to appear. If I haven't unfriended them or muted them...

      THEN I WANT TO SEE THEIR POSTS....

      FB can't even do that right...

    • by necro81 (917438)

      crack addicted meth head chimp

      Ooooh, now THAT I gotta see!

  • by OzPeter (195038) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @01:02PM (#47607511)

    Yes I have a FB account (for various reasons) but when ever I get the chance I always flag ads as being sexually explicit with the hope that it wastes more FB resources than they gain from me. Yeah, it may not actually do anything, but it keeps me happy.

    (Likewise I also report unsolicited emails from major companies as spam)

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @01:19PM (#47607651)

      Yeah, because they are able to analyze almost everything about your behavior but could never catch on that all your reports are crap? Its also very unlikely that they would even care about your report if you are the only person reporting.

      Come on, can you really be that naive? Do you really think that during the design of the report functionality they said to themselves "a few million people will see this and might click on it, so we probably should handle everything manually and not find a way to filter out trolls, this is the internet after all and everybody is always nice here".

      If you don't want to help facebook, then you don't join facebook. Simply being on there makes the whole system better for other users. Unless you are there but nobody ever contacts you on it or friends you.

      • If only I hadn't spent my mod points yesterday, I'd mod this up. This is the point of machine learning, and probably one of the first aspects that they tackled... the numbers don't lie.

    • by antdude (79039)

      I like to block ads.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The Facebook news feeds are still completely broken.

    The algorithm is very simple: all post I subscribe to, sorted newest to oldest.

    Culling is completely broken.

  • And yet (Score:4, Informative)

    by bananaquackmoo (1204116) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @01:07PM (#47607549)
    And yet it still sucks at presenting me with any news I'm interested in. I think I've clicked on a news story from that feed only once and by accident. Hint : I don't have any interest in sports, politics, celebrity gossip, pop music, old news, and pretty much anything else they've recommended.
    • Every time I visit my facebook page, I have to click on the "most recent first" option instead of having facebook decide what items I want to see. Sure would be nice if facebook made the "most recent first" option persistent across visits....
      • by _xeno_ (155264)

        Every time I visit my facebook page, I have to click on the "most recent first" option instead of having facebook decide what items I want to see.

        Just in case you weren't aware, all that does is sort the Top Stories chronologically. You're still only seeing the posts Facebook decides you want to see.

        As far as I know, there is absolutely no way to prevent Facebook from filtering posts. If there is I'd love to know what it is, but Most Recent isn't it. (I think it used to be, but enough people knew about it, so Facebook had to take that away. We will read the ads Zuckerberg wants us to read, dammit.)

        • by Uzuri (906298)

          There sort of is, if you have a limited enough group of people you're interested in -- put them in your close friends and only look at that feed. So far as I can tell*, you then get all the entries for that group (though you still need to sort chrono, which FBPurity and other tools will do for you).

          *not necessarily very far

  • by PJ6 (1151747) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @01:13PM (#47607601)
    that I don't have the choice to tell Facebook to just stop randomly hiding shit on me.

    Some of us don't have 1200 "friends" and don't want a filter.
    • Amen.

  • by DigitAl56K (805623) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @01:15PM (#47607621)

    if (session.timeelapsed() > 1800 || rand() % 3 == 0)
            newsfeed.setmode(TOP_STORIES);

  • Articles like this are, for those of us who dont care to shackle ourselves to zuckerbergs moneytrain, technically interesting. For those of you with a facebook account however it should be insulting and demeaning as the equivalent of a farmhand explaining the latest milking machine or stun bolt to a herd of angus.

    its completely OT, but i still feel obligated to say it. Facebook isnt interested in you as a person, theyre interested in you as a product.
    • by fisted (2295862)
      Unfortunately sometimes FB is the only feasible and free way to stay in touch with someone, especially when they are technically illiterate.
      If there's no such person in your life, okay, but others have to deal with it.
      Turns out there's a great way to deal with it [bitlbee.org], completely eliminating the need to use their website. On one end it speaks numerous IM protocols (incl. facebook chat (which is essentially XMPP)); on the user end it pretends to be an IRCd, offering a uniform way to chat via the various IMs

      its completely OT, but i still feel obligated to say it. Facebook isnt interested in you as a person, theyre interested in you as a product.

      Yes.

  • All the posts from my friends + all the post from places I've liked - anything I've turned off (like game requests)

    Is that so hard?

    • All the posts from my friends + all the post from places I've liked - anything I've turned off (like game requests)

      Is that so hard?

      Easy, create a list with all your friends and all the things you liked. Then read that list instead of your news feed - you will see ALL the posts on that list.

  • have no clue how Facebook works behind the scenes.

  • If it's a post by a friend or group I've joined (main news feed) or list member (when I have a list selected), show it. Period. That's the whole point of facebook. It's *extremely* annoying to find out some time later I missed something important because facebook decided it wasn't interesting for some obscure reason.

  • Anybody else notice event posts getting delayed? Often I find out about post from friends on events after they happen. I would suspect that Facebook's algorithm does this intentionally to try and encourage people to pay to boost a post.
  • Real OG (Score:2, Funny)

    by WillgasM (1646719)
    Real gangstas browse by recent stories. My actual news feed only contains posts by chicks I'd like to do. I guess "doability" is one of those weighted variables.
    • "Doability" isn't. How long you look at the post is. So, FB figured out your preferred use of their service is to look at small pictures of attractive women.

    • by Hillgiant (916436)

      You realize all those "chicks" are actually spam-bots using images culled from inactive instagram accounts, right?

      And since when do "gangstas" post on /.?

    • Heh, that's because the longer you spend on a persons profile and looking through their photo albums the more likely it is those people will show up on your newsfeed. All that time spent looking at their pictures tells Facebook those people are important to you so it presents you with their other posts, too.

  • Must log into FaceBook and trash an number of adverts while lieing about my preferences in a confusing manner.

    It must be a couple of weeks since I poured sand into that particular Web2.0 gearbox. I do hope it's high-precision.

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