Facebook has been busy tweaking its News Feed, and for good reason – and now, finally, the social network is inviting us to take “a new look for News Feed.” This Thursday, Facebook will hopefully unveil a better News Feed – something that’s perhaps on top of users’ request lists. While Facebook isn’t giving us any clues (at least not purposefully), some leaked information and a few feature tests we’ve noticed could be hints at what’s to come.
A new mobile News Feed
TechCrunch reported in January on an employee-only build of Facebook’s unreleased News Feed design for its mobile app. Based on the purported design and rough sketch, the social network is looking at the content that users are sharing and wants its platform to act more like a syndication app – like the Flipboards, Zites, and Vodios of the world. To give you a better idea of what the redesigned app would look like, topic sections like “news” would be limited to a tile, which you can navigate through by swiping the tile to read all news-related content. User-uploaded photos would make up another section, and the status updates including photo and captions might resemble how Twitter displays captioned tweets in images.
If Facebook does launch this, users will need to adjust to a completely new way of consuming content from their News Feed. Picture a Facebook app that automatically sorts each type of News Feed update in music, news, game scores, and video categories that you can click on and view all content relevant to the category page you’ve opened up.
Expect users to cry foul if this happens – it’s simply too far of a departure from what we’ve become used to. In Facebook fashion, the social network will remain steadfast with the redesign until we’ve all forgotten what the previous version of even looked like (Timeline, anyone?).
A “smarter” News Feed
The News Feed’s algorithm in its current state works by using “several factors to determine top stories, including the number of comments, who posted the story, and what type of post it is (ex: photo, video, status update, etc.).”
So to better serve you more relevant content in your News Feed, Facebook has to get to know you better. But to get to know you better, EdgeRank, the News Feed algorithm that decides what shows up in your News Feed, needs to know what you’re doing and what you’re interested in.
For Facebook, it’s just a matter of spending the time to allocate resources into revamping the News Feed’s engine to actually monitor how users are active inside and outside of Facebook. So this is exactly what Facebook has reportedly done with its secret group called “Info D” and headed by VP of Products Chris Cox.
As for what Cox is working on, Business Insider’s source offered some breadcrumbs that could indicate what types of signals Facebook might start factoring in, which include the types of links you’re checking out inside Facebook, who your friends are, products or services you’ve purchased, Websites you’ve visited, and where you’ve been. Note that we’re already seeing some of these signals used via the types of ads that are served to us in both Facebook’s banner ads and native ad units.
At the same time, one theory we also have in mind has to do with Graph Search. Facebook is already tracking some of our in-app activities like what we’re searching for and what we’re listening to. So once Graph Search rolls out to every user, it will be a core contributor to how Facebook gets to know us and our interests. For instance, if we’re using Graph Search to find places to eat, our News Feed might serve us content that day with updates from restaurants that we’ve liked or have been to.
Outside of Graph Search, if news breaks about a story that we’re following intently, Facebook may choose to serve us all relevant articles that our friends or followed publications have shared that day.
Pushing more engagement on Facebook
The Business Insider report says that Cox wants to retire Facebook Pages altogether. However we’re skeptical, with good reason. We’ve noticed a handful of new features being tested out on Facebook (and confirmed as tests, for that matter), and among them was an in-line like button that sits inside of an update shared by a friend. In this case it was a Vimeo video, which first popped up on the News Feed and later, we rediscovered it on the submitter’s Timeline. The story surfaced a link that takes you straight to Vimeo’s Facebook Page and an in-line button that sits across from this link. Considering that Facebook has built out this feature in the first place, at least for now Facebook wants more people to like more pages and is essentially offering users a shortcut to liking these Pages.
With this in mind, there’s evidently something going on behind the scenes since the News Feed is surfacing update types that we haven’t seen in a long time, including friendships, events, and follower updates. Tacked onto these updates are options to follow people our friends are following, or add friends that our friends have friended, all directly from the News Feed.
You can’t bank on these updates being pushed to the new News Feed, but they could a smaller part of the larger release.