The News Feed is one of the most popular features of Facebook, yet it is also one that has resulted in the social network turning into something sinister. What was initially just meant to be a feed of updates from family and friends soon transformed into a front-page which presented Facebook users with everything from viral content to fake news. This has got Facebook into a lot of trouble, and it looks like Facebook wants to relook at how News Feed is populated.
According to the latest Facebook Newsroom post, the social network has run surveys to come up with two ranking updates for News Feed. The first one will prioritise the friends you may want to hear from the most and the other update will prioritise the links a person may find the most worthwhile. These two parameters will be taken into consideration and prioritised over the already present mechanisms of populating your News Feed. The idea is to prevent random and click-bait content from Pages showing up in your News Feed.
“As we’ve said in the past, it’s not about the amount of time someone spends on Facebook, but rather the quality of time spent,” said Facebook in the blog.
Better connections with People you care about
As a rule, Facebook already tracks your friend’s list, what you like, which posts you comment on, your mutual friends and many other factors to determine what to show on your News Feed. Going forward Facebook will ask you to list out your closest friends and then analyse patterns such as tagging in photos, checking-in in similar places, commenting on the same posts and use those learnings to train the algorithm. This, according to Facebook, will help it present you with content that you will be more keen to know about. The ranking of such posts from your close friends will get a higher ranking as compared to your regular News Feed posts.
Facebook claims that it will constantly keep training this algorithm based on your feedback about your friends so that you don’t just hear from one set of friends in perpetuity.
Subtext: Facebook wants you to volunteer even more data on who you are close friends with.
Better connections with Posts you care about
Facebook has been conducting surveys on its platform asking people which posts they thought were worth their time on Facebook. Taking the results of these surveys into consideration, Facebook hopes to show you posts that you will most likely want to consume over others. In addition to the results of these surveys, Facebook will also look at factors such as the type of post, who it’s from and the engagement it has received to help predict if you will indeed find the link valuable.
Subtext: Just one more way to find out which content interests you, by explicitly asking you about it and then using that information to train the algorithms.
Time well spent?
Both these changes are in line with Facebook’s drive towards ensuring you spend quality time on the platform, as opposed to spending the maximum possible time (although Facebook wouldn’t mind that either). News Feed has been a bone of contention ever since malicious actors started gaming it to ensure you were presented with atrocious and often-times fake content, which also got a lot of engagement.
Off late, Facebook has been taking active measures to ensure that News Feed isn’t gamed in any manner. Just last month, Facebook announced its ‘Remove, Reduce, Inform’ strategy to prevent the spread of misinformation on the platform and to tackle issues such as online harassment and hate speech as well. Instagram also announced measures to cut down on borderline content, which is the type of content that borders on nudity, hate-speech, misinformation and other things, without explicitly breaking any of Facebook or Instagram’s community guidelines and, in effect, is allowed to stay on these platforms.
Over the years, we have seen News Feed transform from a text-heavy space to image-heavy to now video-heavy feed. With irrelevant videos from random friends and Pages showing up in News Feed, it not only wastes our time but is also driving people away from Facebook. Instagram, which has steadily gained in engagement numbers, is a platform many are leaving Facebook for — which is still good news for Facebook as it owns Instagram.
Mark Zuckerberg in his massive letter earlier this year, had disclosed plans to pivot its social networks into private messaging platforms which are focussed on your connections. With these new changes in Facebook, it looks just another way that the social network is training its algorithms to achieve the goal of becoming a more personalised network — something that Facebook started off as. Whether these changes will really lead to ‘time well spent’ is anybody’s guess.
Earlier this month at the F8 Developer’s conference, the over-arching theme was ‘the future is private’ and Zuckerberg announced many new features including a design revamp for the parent Facebook app. Even Zuckerberg knows that just having a new look and the same old News Feed algorithm is not going to mean success, so these two algorithm updates are just in time before we see the rollout of FB5 later this year.