How Fakebook Works

Tired of dealing with drama when you don't wish your Facebook friends a happy birthday? Fakebook takes care of that automatically!
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Some people are online social butterflies, deftly managing to interact with hundreds of Facebook friends on a daily basis. To them, there's no challenge in wading through a dozen event invites, wishing a happy birthday to the appropriate people, responding to Wall posts and making the next move in one of the thousands of games permeating the site.

For the rest of us, Facebook can sometimes seem a little overwhelming. If you've got a lot of Facebook friends, you may find it impossible to keep up with everything. And if your friends are the sensitive type, you may give off the impression that you don't care about them. There's nothing quite like finding out a friend is in a tizzy because you didn't respond to an invite on Facebook to go bowling.


Then there are the people who'd rather never get on Facebook at all. As our culture embraces social networking sites and services, people begin to feel the pressure to participate. That might not be a big deal to everyone but some people just aren't that comfortable sharing information with others. How do you balance being a contributing member of society with reluctance to join the online social world?

The answer for people who have trouble maintaining a Facebook profile -- or those who wish to avoid it as much as possible -- may be Fakebook. It's a new Facebook application that responds to requests automatically and takes care of the everyday virtual housekeeping your profile needs to avoid drama. For people with a lot of Facebook friends, it takes the pressure out of responding to various invitations and status updates. For the shyer among us, Fakebook can provide the online interaction we're otherwise reluctant to do.

So what can Fakebook actually do?


Features of Fakebook

At launch, Fakebook gave users a choice of five profile types to customize status updates and birthday wishes.
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Richard Dewey, the developer behind Fakebook, must have spent countless hours on Facebook to map out features -- he's addressed nearly everything. From birthday announcements to status updates, the app can provide as much support as you're willing to receive.

Once you install the app, you'll have some choices to sort through. You can choose Fakebook Lite, an option that only does two things: wish people "Happy Birthday" on the appropriate day and respond to all event invites with a "Maybe" response.


But if you really want to test Fakebook, you can opt in for a Fakebook Profile. These pre-scripted profiles fall under several categories. At launch, those categories included The Flirt, The Geek, The Adventurer, The Misanthrope and Generic. When you choose one of these profiles, Fakebook will tailor automatic birthday messages, invite requests and even status updates on your behalf.

For example, if you choose The Geek profile, the automated birthday wishes will have a distinctly nerdy feel to them. Instead of a generic "Happy Birthday" message, your friend may receive "The Force is Strong with You -- Happy Birthday!" Or they might even get a birthday wish written in binary!

The automated status updates may be the most impressive feature on Fakebook. According to Fakebook's developer, each profile has thousands of pre-scripted status updates. But that's not all -- Fakebook will search the Web for news stories that relate to the type of Fakebook profile you've chosen. Fakebook will share stories that fall into your profile's interests. Pick the Adventurer profile, for example, and you may notice articles beginning to pop up on your Wall about attempts to climb Mount Everest or a new skydiving school opening in the area.

One controversial feature is the ability to monitor your friends' relationship statuses. Fakebook can alert you if someone you have eyes on has switched from being in a relationship to being single. It can even make the first move for you if you like. The Flirt profile is particularly good at this -- it's preset to send flirtatious comments to people you designate as what Fakebook calls "Love Targets."

Each profile has a male, female and gender-neutral option. Dewey claims that several more profiles are in development, including The Goth, The Social Butterfly and The Clown. He says the app is sophisticated enough that it could take over your profile for months without anyone being the wiser.

How can Fakebook work such magic? We'll look under the hood next.


Databases, Algorithms and Semantics - Oh My!

Fakebook is a deceptively complex application. You might imagine that an app that responds to simple data like birthdays and event invitations would be straightforward. But Fakebook's customizable profiles complicate things. The secrets of Fakebook's features fall into three categories: databases, algorithms and semantics.

Fakebook has a database for each profile. The database contains variations of common status updates, mostly mundane phrases that wouldn't raise suspicions. An example might be "Man, I hate Mondays." Fakebook would only post this on a Monday -- it also references the app server's internal clock and adjusts the time according to your time zone. And Fakebook's founder claims that each phrase has at least a dozen variations in each database -- with some phrases reaching close to 100 variations. The profiles determine the tone of the status updates and responses. Some phrases appear across all profiles while others can only be found in one profile.


But what happens when people start to adopt Fakebook? Will you suddenly notice everyone submitting the same (or variations of the same) comments on Facebook? Not according to Fakebook's founder. The secret is Fakebook's algorithm. While the details of the algorithm remain a secret, Richard Dewey admits that it all begins with simple user data, including the user's birthday and time zone. Using this information as a starting point, Fakebook picks a status update and moves from there. It also keeps track of the statuses it uses so as to avoid frequent repetition.

The effect is that the status updates seem random, just as they would if a real person were updating Facebook. Users will be able to set the frequency of status updates with a maximum of five posts per day, not including birthday wishes or invitation responses.

As for semantics, that's the most challenging obstacle for Dewey. Fakebook must be able to analyze Facebook posts and understand what they actually mean. This allows Fakebook to post an appropriate response to a friend's status update. You wouldn't want your app to crack a joke if you friend shared a heartbreaking event like the death of a pet, for example. In theory, Fakebook should be able to piece together an appropriate response to nearly any post on Facebook. You can set the sensitivity for this feature as well, including limiting it to posts that have at least one other comment attached to them before adding an automated comment.

While Dewey admits that semantics remains the biggest hurdle for Fakebook, he maintains that the app responds appropriately 95 percent of the time. "That's probably better than most of us do in real life," he said in an exclusive interview with To limit any accidents to a bare minimum, each user will have to filter friends for Fakebook responses. Anyone in the filter will receive the occasional message from your automated profile -- those friends not in the filter won't.

Next, we'll look at how Fakebook got started.


Faking Sincerity

Fakebook is the brainchild of Richard Dewey, a graduate student at the University of Tennessee. In an interview with, Dewey said his decision to build an app hinged on how hectic his online schedule became as he tried to balance schoolwork with a virtual social life.

Richard Dewey explained his reasons for creating Fakebook. "It was hard because so many of my friends felt hurt if I didn't wish them a happy birthday or if I ignored an event invitation. There were days I wouldn't get a chance to check Facebook at all and it seemed like I missed something important every time."


Dewey decided that an app that would automatically respond to certain requests could prevent drama breaking out among his friends list and he got to work. He worked it out on paper first. "I made a list of things I wanted the app to do," says Dewey. "I realized early on it could be a lot bigger than I first imagined. Theoretically, I could create an app that could take over a Facebook profile for an indefinite amount of time and no one would notice!"

Dewey used Facebook's application programming interface (API) to build the first iteration of Fakebook in late 2010. While the simpler features worked flawlessly from the start, the more advanced features still needed some work.

"I created a bunch of Facebook profiles to test the app," says Dewey. "I had 30 test profiles -- six of each of Fakebook's launch profiles. I set them all to maximum interaction and left them alone for two weeks. At the end of the test, all but two profiles had been in at least three relationships. All the Flirts had relationship statuses that said "It's complicated." The Misanthropes had alienated the other profiles enough be unfriended. Only one Generic profile seemed relatively normal. I knew it was time to go back to the drawing board."

Fortunately, future tests were more successful. By toning down the responses and weeding out some of the more inflammatory status updates in the databases, Dewey fine tuned Fakebook so that it was both more effective and less likely to get you into trouble with your friends. He also narrowed search parameters to avoid having your Fakebook post inappropriate stories and articles to your profile.

"I love Facebook," says Dewey. "But there are times it's just too much to handle. I made sure to make it easy to switch Fakebook on or off. It even reminds you when you log into Facebook if it's active or inactive. I always turn mine on when I'm on vacation. So far, no one seems to have noticed!"

Dewey launched Fakebook at the 2011 South by Southwest (SXSW) conference. You could find him -- if you really looked hard -- tucked away in a corner far from some of the higher profile Web services on display. But he's confident his app will take the Web by storm. Attendees of SXSW gained beta access to the app. If you happen to be my friend on Facebook, I challenge you to figure out if it's really me behind the keyboard. Dewey says anyone who claims they can do so reliably must be joking.

Speaking of jokes, check out the links on the next page.


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