An Explanation of the Facebook revisions

11.01.09 | Comment?

I and a lot of other people were caught off guard by the recent changes to how Facebook is showing us our news. What’s the difference between the News Feed and the Live feed. It would have been nice if there had been some sort of news update or instructions or something. Instead, it just appeared and we had to figure it out on our own. A few days later word started traveling through the grapevine that you could rearrange the list on the left, putting Status Updates at the top, and things would go back to the way they were.

Only, that’s not really true. Moving Status Updates to the top of the list does (sometimes) change your default view, but as the name suggests, you only see status updates. You don’t get the photos of your nieces and nephews or all the other miscellaneous stuff that is posted on Facebook. It just seemed wrong that there would be a change like this with no explanation, so I started looking for one. It took me all of about 30 seconds. This public service announcement is for all of you who have been complaining about Facebook but haven’t bothered to look into why it’s doing what it’s doing.

For starters, you can go to Settings->Help and read most of what I’m about to tell you.

Now, there are two views of News Feed: a summary view of the most interesting activity that’s happened in the last day and a real-time view that shows you what is happening right now. Learn more about News Feed and how to edit the views here.

That is followed with a link that takes you to an FAQ. The money quote is the very first question and answer.

What is the difference between News Feed and Live Feed?
News Feed aggregates the most interesting content that your friends are posting, while Live Feed shows you all the actions your friends are making in real-time.

I don’t know about you, but I have a ridiculous number of “friends” on Facebook. I put friends in quote because it’s really a mixture of friends, acquaintances, colleagues, people whom I’ve never met in person but nevertheless are fans of 12 to Midnight and seem great. I’ve got less than 200 Facebook friends, and I know quite a few people who have in excess of 500. Every time I log in, it’s with the knowledge that I’m missing dozen of posts because of all the noise. I’ve even created some custom friends lists to use to narrow down groups and try to catch everything, but honestly it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

I think the Facebook team has recognized this trend and is trying to do something about it. Thus we’ve got the News view, which tries to summarize the most interesting stuff, and the Live view, which is every post from every friend in date order.

How does News Feed determine which content is most interesting?
The News Feed algorithm bases this on a few factors: how many friends are commenting on a certain piece of content, who posted the content, and what type of content it is (e.g. photo, video, or status update).

This is pretty cool, in my opinion, because if I were designing it that’s exactly how I would do it. I’d look at the number of views and comments on a post, content type (ranking user generated higher than app-generated), and how frequently I’ve interacted with the poster in the past.

Where are my Highlights?

Highlights and News Feed have been merged into one single stream in order to provide you with more control over what you see on your home page. Now when you load Facebook for the first time in a while, you’ll land on your News Feed, which contains a summary of the best content that you missed. After you’ve caught up on what you’ve missed, you can switch to the Live Feed. The Live Feed is a real-time stream that allows you to connect and share with friends’ updates immediately as they are occurring.

Once I realized what the two pages were for, I saw that they did their jobs pretty well. Where Facebook fell down was in not explaining all of this to us as an item in our news streams. I’m sure there’s an essay about the sad irony in Facebook’s communication failure. In the meantime, give the two news views a fresh chance. You may come to like them.

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