Facebook set to revamp news feed: What to expect

March 7, 2013

Facebook is set to unveil a new look for its news feed, making changes to a key feature of the social network that could have serious implications for its users and advertisers.

The company hasn’t said what, exactly, it’s going to be doing to the running list of updates that make up the backbone of its network. But rumor has it that the company will give users several easy ways to sort through the news feed by the type of post they want to see, according to a report from TechCrunch.

Facebook already offers some content-specific feeds that let users sort through updates by type of content, such as music, events, photos and games, but have them tucked into a list of filters on the left-hand side of the news feed. TechCrunch noted that Facebook even has a filter for links your friends have shared, but that getting to that useful feature is pretty difficult to find. The report indicates that Facebook would move these kinds of filters into a more prominent position.

Facebook has faced some serious criticism for the way its news feed algorithms serve up content, particularly after New York Times reporter Nick Bilton noticed that his engagement had fallen significantly since the company began offering users the chance to pay for posts promotions. After his piece, several others who use Facebook for promoting their businesses, causes and other work also chimed in that they’d seen engagement fall as well.

In response to concerns from Bilton and other, Facebook issued a statement that denied it was suppressing “organic distribution of posts in favor of paid posts” to pump up its revenue and said that several factors such as quality and number of posts affect which posts users see in their feeds.

Adding filters could help advertisers and others who rely on Facebook for marketing to help their content rise to the top of a specific feed — but it could also mean that posts will get hidden more easily behind different walls.

Analysts also are expecting that the company will make the news feed more visually focused. Since the news feed was launched in 2006, Facebook has consistently changed its design to make items such as photos, maps and videos more prominent.

Those design changes have made the news feed more attractive, particularly on Facebook’s all-important mobile site. Since most of the network’s traffic comes in from users on smaller screens — who’d have to squint, tap or zoom in to see little pictures — making the site easy to use on mobile is key for the company.

Chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg, Business Insider noted, also has indicated that Facebook’s advertisers have asked for the company to put bigger pictures and richer media into the News Feed, providing another incentive for Facebook to continue down this path.

Advertising, of course, is how Facebook makes its money. And the company has had trouble in the past convincing investors that it has a strong advertising plan in hand — a problem that’s kept the stock well below its initial public offering price of $38 per share.

Facebook also announced late Wednesday that it has named Susan Desmond-Hellmann to its board. Desmond-Hellmann is the chancellor of the University of California at San Francisco and has a background in biotechnology. She is the second woman to join Facebook’s board; the company’s own chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, was appointed to the board last June.

(Washington Post Co. chairman and chief executive Don Graham is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.)

Related stories:

Facebook sends invite promising ‘new look for the News Feed’

University of California chancellor is second woman to join Facebook board of directors

Fatigue or not, Facebook to unveil ‘new look’ for its News Feed on Thursday

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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