Confused about the difference between news feed and live feed on Facebook? Me too. The whole new new Facebook annoyed and confused me. I finally googled it to see wtf was going on. What I learned was interesting.
The biggest change on Facebook felt like the whole live and news feed thing. That was the most obvious one. We all quickly figured out how to drag our status feed to the top of the links menu on the left. That was supposed to restore the old Facebook, but it didn’t since all the feeds are now split into status, links, pages, etc., plus the new Live Feed and News Feed. So, here’s the difference between all the feeds, which is obvious if you think about it:
Live Feed: A feed of everything in Facebook. In addition to status updates, this includes friends’ quiz results, Mob Wars and Farmville announcements, page announcements, every. little. thing. Live Feed is twitterish. Unfortunately, the live part of the Live Feed doesn’t work well. It’s slow and it doesn’t always refresh, so no one noticed for a while.
News Feed: This is a feed of supposedly interesting stuff. It weeds out the stupid things like Mob Wars and Farmville. It also weeds out everything else. News Feed is a merge with the Highlights section that was placed on the right-hand column in the last change. Apparently users asked for this to happen. You can, however, hide the irritating Farmville announcements with the hide button.
One problem: News Feed uses a super sekret algorithm known only to Facebook to determine what goes into the feed based on what they think is most relevant to you. The popularity filters look for “interactivity,” or what you comment, like, or share, basic “user activity stories” (i.e., friend acceptance, event RSVPs, fanning), who you interact with, who they interact with, what you post on, how other people you interact with comment, like, or share, etc. Basically it’s a meme feedback loop. Facebook’s algorithm determines what you will “enjoy” (their phrase) and then feeds it to you. Since you are limited to posts on that feed, that’s what you spread around. Your News Feed changes minute by minute due to this algorithm which is why it’s not chronological (which really confused me).
Another problem: The new design limits your feed to 250 posts and it limits your friend tracking to 250 friends. Not a problem for me since I don’t have that many friends. People who do, however, need to edit their Facebook settings to see all their friends’ feeds.
They blame us for the change: Facebook claims that these changes were prompted by user feedback and the point is to reduce information overload. For instance, after the last change, everyone griped about losing birthdays and they have been returned to prominence “above the fold.”
The upshot: Live Feed is cluttered with everything and News Feed is de-cluttered to the point of annoyance.
The money-making truth:
1. More personalization for more profit: Not only are birthdays back, but so are ads. All this customization serves us up on a platter to advertisers looking for target markets.
2. Annoying harassment: To promote “user engagement,” Facebook nags you through a “suggestions box” to nudge your friends into increased activity. Thus you get spam in the upper right hand corner telling you to “reconnect” with friends, “poke” them, help them fill out their incomplete info, suggest friends (that was there before; it’s just more prominent now). Yes, this increases the network, which is why we’re there, but Facebook’s motive is to grow the consumer population.
3. Fanning: Facebook told “brands” that advertising (aka “fanning”) increase “organically” in the News Feed. I never thought about fanning as viral advertising, but it really is. Sort of the way music videos are really advertisements for music.
4. Bizarrely predictable/predictably bizarre: A whole industry has sprouted up around tracking Facebook algorithms, user activity, designs, applications, and their implications for advertising.
See, for instance, the site AppData: Independent, Accurate Facebook Application Metrics and Trends from Inside Facebook. Seriously. People make a living trying to figure out how to use Facebook to sell crap to us. They study the “Facebook ecosystem” and its metrics to ferret out how to get the most bang for their advertising buck. Facebook plays a sort of give and take system with the advertisers. The sole purpose of most apps is to spam us with advertising. AppData’s sole purpose is to track Facebook app users.
Facebook plays a give and take game with app designers in terms of how app stories appear on your page. On the one hand, “one user’s single fan-join can translate into hundreds of brand exposures.” App developers want to get you coming to their product and app pages. The new News Feed is seen as a “continuous viral driver” for sending people to advertisers’ pages. On the other, Facebook keeps the algorithm top secret. Consequently, as those Facebook tracker wonks put it (with greedy eloquence):
The power and direction of the currents that carry information through Facebook’s oceanic social graph are shifting. This has major implications for every participant in the Facebook ecosystem. Why? Because as Facebook adjusts the dynamics of its viral communication channels, it also intrinsically shifts the incentives and opportunities for all actors in the ecosystem. Every application developer, page manager, and advertiser should be studying the decisions that Facebook is making in order to understand how Facebook’s shifting product plans will affect their business.
5. Twitterishness: Yes, Facebook is getting more and more Twitterish even though they deny it. The whole Live Feed is Twitterish (though they claim they had it first with status updates). They even stole the whole Twitter-style @tags (one cool improvement).
Both Facebook and Twitter are in “data deals” with both Bing and Google. Updates will be crawled and indexed by these search engines, which means more data trawling for advertisers. Don’t panic. This is only for public status posts. Still, it’s a huge mass of data for marketing experts to play with.
So, to summarize the reason for all these changes made under the alibi of reducing information overload (stolen from ReadWriteWeb):
1. Get more people sharing information.
2. Figure out how to create a personalized, high-value view of all that information by surfacing the most important updates for each user.
I think in the end what’s most irksome to people is that Facebook made these changes without informing users how to navigate them. What’s become more bothersome to me now that I’ve learned about the changes is the way that Facebook violated transparency, which is supposedly a cultural more for web 2.0. Instead these changes and our passive-aggressive reaction to them simply prove Sherry Turkles notion that we now take things at “interface value” instead of trying to understand what’s beneath the surface.