Friends are in, publishers are out … until next time.
Another Facebook News Feed tweak has been attracting attention this week, not for the first (or last) time. In addition to three significant changes, it brings yet another reminder that we’re all at the mercy of its algorithms. Whether you’re a million-dollar publishing empire or a mother with some baby pictures, it’s largely up to Facebook just how many other people are going to get to see your post.
The New New News Feed
About those News Feed changes. First, if yours happens to be a little on the sparse side (did all your friends leave for Snapchat?), Facebook will now show you more posts from the contacts you do have rather than let you reach the “end” of your feed.
Second, Facebook will now favor updates “posted directly by the friends you care about” in your News Feed. If there are certain people you interact with more often, you’ll see more posts by them. If you spend a lot of time clicking and commenting on links from the New York Times, you’ll see more material from that page, too.
Third and last, you won’t see as many posts and comments from your friends on pages you’re not connected with. Uncle Ed might love Coca-Cola’s Facebook presence, but unless you’ve also liked the Coca-Cola page, you won’t see Uncle Ed’s love-in with the sugary soda drink quite as much as you did before.
With online publishers relying so heavily on Facebook for traffic, tweaks like this merit close study, since they can send referral traffic soaring or plummeting. The third part of this latest reconfiguration has been widely seen as a blow for sites and brands looking for as many eyeballs as possible, though it’s going to be a while before we know the full effects of the changes.
Whose Feed Is It Anyway?
No sooner has the virtual ink dried on an analysis of one News Feed update than the next one comes along to replace it. Last August, Facebook went to war against spammy, clickbait-style articles, a move that would have pleased pretty much everyone except those who make their living from such pieces.
Facebook’s also exploring the possibility of hosting content from key publishers itself rather than linking out to it. When you attract the attention of more than 1.4 billion users, then you get to call the shots on what gets priority and what doesn’t.
With each of us having so many connections on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and his band of engineers have to take some editorial control over what pops up in the News Feed—a flat stream of everything that was happening in sequential order wouldn’t be much fun at all.
But it’s interesting to weigh the question of exactly what users want to see. Why do we log into Facebook in 2015? Is it more for updates from friends or links of interest? Facebook is always keen to emphasize that its tweaks are based on user feedback, and our tastes are always changing—hence the re-emergence of instant messenger-style apps.
News Feed algorithm updates will always generate plenty of comment and discussion from publishers, but they say as much about social networking and our virtual relationships with our friends as they do about the future of news.