Facebook’s new News Feed solves some problems but ignores others

Time stands still for no one, and everything is subject to change. Whether we like it or not, there are continual shifts in the way people buy and use products and services. We can be incredibly fickle, jumping on a popular bandwagon one day and abandoning it the next. It isn’t possible to stay on top by just continuing to do the same thing. Product manufacturers and content creators have to constantly gauge what their audiences are happy or unhappy with, and anticipate what new idea might come along to capture their fancy next. This is to help them adapt in order to remain relevant and prevent someone else from stealing their thunder.


So here’s the most important thing to remember—it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re happy with the current Facebook and whether or not you like its latest avatar. The company, now publicly traded and responsible to its shareholders, is much more worried that something new and shiny will come along and make people feel like they’re bored of it or too used to it. Since the value of a network diminishes with each person who leaves it, Facebook’s entire business could collapse. It’s happened before: MySpace, Orkut, Friendster, Digg and ICQ all fell victim to changing perceptions of what’s cool and what isn’t.


Essentially, Facebook itself has to become that new next thing. So far it’s managed to fend off direct competition from Google, but every so often a startup like Instagram and Pinterest will come along that offers users something entirely different, which catches their imagination. Facebook’s main challenge is to keep users engaged and advertisers happy. 


Friends’ posts appear larger and more spaced out



The new News Feed can do both things. First of all, it’s a breath of fresh air. It will help break people out of their habitual check-ins and pay attention to what people are saying and doing. There’s a focus on imagery now and a reduction of text for captions and labels. Photos are much bigger and galleries have more breathing room too. Posts from people you don’t really want to hear from are automatically demoted, making you less likely to skip through the feed. There’s a dedicated space for updates from the pages of brands, products and celebrities you’re following. Filtering contacts into the “Close friends” and “Acquaintances” groups will also influence how many or how few updates you see from them.


This means quite a lot for Facebook users, marketers, and even the competition. Users will have to scroll more to see the same number of posts, since more spacing means lower density. People who choose to filter to “All friends” or “Close friends” by default will also have to manually choose to see updates from branded pages, games and other apps. This is a great way to cut down on the annoyance caused by spammy updates (though it remains to be seen how many of these will still pop up in the main news feed). While marketers might see this as a reduction in visibility, it could allow them to dominate the “Following” feeds of users with relatively few “Likes”, as well as concentrate their efforts on users who are more engaged with them. Richer content, including a page’s cover image, will now make its way to users’ timelines. This will give page managers new tools for reaching followers, and could affect how users and marketers think of Facebook versus Twitter—especially since updates come in chronologically.


The Photos, Music and Games sections are also interesting, though what exactly they will or won’t display remains unknown till the new News Feed actually rolls out to users. From what we do know, the sections make sense because game and app updates that currently annoy users in their universal feed are either skipped or blocked as spam. Marketers gain nothing the old way. Now they have a safe corner of their own, where users will come to them. Users actually playing a game, or those passionate about music, will be likely to check in on these sections quite often if not every day. This might be somewhat similar to what the reinvented MySpace and the new Pheed are trying to achieve, and it will be interesting to see how these networks perform over the next year or so.


The Photos section in particular has broad appeal to everyone. Facebook could easily leverage its newly acquired army of passionate Instagram users, giving them a space similar to their recently launched Web profiles.


It’s surprising that there isn’t a section for news, or customisable sections for things such as cars or technology, given Facebook’s use of the newspaper as a metaphor for the new News Feed, but maybe we’ll see these in the future.


The changes should be received fairly positively, even though there will be a brief period of people expressing outrage at the fact that Facebook has changed again. That too will be mitigated well enough by the slow rollout—withholding the new Feed and creating anticipation is likely to make people happy to announce they’ve got it, rather than complain that it’s being foisted upon them.


Photos from friends you keep in touch with more often will be prioritised



As far as competition goes, the new News Feed isn’t going to do any damage to Pinterest, Foursquare, or even Twitter—there’s still no better free-for-all always-on public pulpit/hive-mind. Other communities such as Quora and Reddit, as well as topic-specific and function-specific sites/apps including Soundcloud and Vimeo, remain totally unaffected. They’ll feed into Facebook and possibly make it more engaging, but they’re free to grow and prosper without fear of becoming redundant.


What’s most surprising is that although Facebook has included its phone and tablet apps in the overhaul, it hasn’t seemed to have grasped their importance. All the hot new upstart social networks today are mobile-first and location-aware: Path, Glancee, and Sonar, to name a few. You’ll still read your new Feed(s) on the go and maybe upload a few photos and videos, but nothing more. This, more than anything else, is Facebook’s biggest weakness, and it hasn’t done anything to address that fact yet.


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