Many online platforms use curation algorithms that are opaque to the user. Recent work suggests that discovering a filtering algorithm's existence in a curated feed influences user experience, but it remains unclear how users reason about the operation of these algorithms. In this qualitative laboratory study, researchers interviewed a diverse, non-probability sample of 40 Facebook users before, during, and after being presented alternative displays of Facebook's News Feed curation algorithm's output. Interviews revealed 10 "folk theories" of automated curation, some quite unexpected. Users who were given a probe into the algorithm's operation via an interface that incorporated "seams," visible hints disclosing aspects of automation operations, could quickly develop theories. Users made plans that depended on their theories. We conclude that foregrounding these automated processes may increase interface design complexity, but it may also add usability benefits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCHI 2016 - Proceedings, 34th Annual CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781450333627
StatePublished - May 7 2016
Event34th Annual Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI 2016 - San Jose, United States
Duration: May 7 2016May 12 2016

Publication series

NameConference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - Proceedings


Other34th Annual Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI 2016
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Jose


  • Algorithms
  • Folk theories
  • Seamful design
  • Social media feeds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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