Facebook has always maintained that when it comes to the News Feed, they want to "show you the stories that matter most to you." In the past that meant ranking the stories and posts that you see "based on how interesting [they] believe they are to you: specifically, whom you tend to interact with, and what kinds of content you tend to like and comment on." While they've always kept their algorithm a secret, it included some mix of analyzing the preferences you explicitly set, your likes, comments, clicks, and even how long you linger over a specific post.
Today they have decided to try a new, and quite unusual approach in deciding what to show you: They're going to ask you.
The social network, which is known for it's always-changing News Feed algorithm, is rolling out a new "See First" option beginning yesterday. Now, along with a number of new ways of interacting on Facebook that I'll describe to you below, you will be able to identify up to 30 people or pages that will automatically appear at the top of your News Feed whenever you open Facebook.
The move is notable because Facebook has historically relied on smart algorithms to curate content, analyzing huge quantities of data and then pushing users toward what else they might like; This is where advertising came in.
While the idea of simply asking people what they would like to see may seem like not a big deal, it could make Facebook even less appealing to brands already upset with losing reach over the last year. Determining what Facebook thinks interests its users has always been of vital importance for publishers. Some companies, like Upworthy and Mashable, have been able to gain huge numbers of traffic by "gaming" the Facebook algorithm. And recently, many companies like The New York Times and BuzzFeed, have begun hosting their content directly on Facebook in the hopes of improving their click-through rates.
This algorithmic change could be a huge gamble for Facebook. According to Time, the average American user spends just slightly more time per day (43 minutes) socializing with people face-to-face than they do on Facebook (39 minutes). That is the primary reason that Facebook has become an online advertising giant, generating more than $12.5 billion in revenue last year.
So why is this change such a risk? Hypothetically, if all a user wants to see on Facebook is at the top of their News Feed, they may decide to log off after seeing those posts, neglecting to peruse the rest of their feed, including all those ads that Facebook makes money off of.
Instead, Facebook is betting that a more user-friendly experience will encourage more frequent visits to the site, counterbalancing the reduction in ad income that may result from users not needing to scroll as far through the News Feed anymore.
"It sounds counterintuitive, but the worse we do on rankings, the more we make people try and scroll through, the more likely they are to just go away," a company spokesperson told Re/code. "If we show you the stuff you really really want first, you'll come back more often."
While some may be surprised about this change, this update is basically a continuation of a trend that started last year when they began moving away from clicks and likes as a determining factor in how posts appear in the News Feed. In February, Facebook's top 10 publishers saw a huge drop in traffic referrals, which was later attributed to a News Feed bug. When the company announced earlier this year that it would begin prioritizing content from users' "friends" over content from "pages," it sent digital publishers into a panic. The cold, hard truth is that brands must now realize that although "gaming" Facebook's algorithm may work for a time (and I'm sure we'll see changes to how brands react to this change), everyone is vulnerable to Facebook's sudden policy shifts.
The new tools have appeared already in an update to the iOS app, and Facebook says they "will be rolling out on Android and desktop over the coming weeks." To get the extra preferences, users can click on the "More" button in the bottom right hand corner of the Facebook app and select them through "Settings."
So what does this look like?
Select friends and Pages to see first
To help prioritize stories, and make sure you don't miss posts from particular friends and Pages, you can now select which friends and Pages you would like to see at the top of your News Feed.
Find new Pages to connect to
Helping you find new Pages to follow can help you connect with publishers, artists and businesses you might be interested in. Based on the types of Pages you've liked in the past, you can discover new Pages in order to get more of the stories you care about.
Select which friends and Pages to follow or unfollow
With an updated design of the tools we previously launched, you can now see a list of the top people, Pages, and groups that you've seen in your News Feed over the past week, You can also choose to unfollow any friend, Page, or group if you don't want to see their updates, as well as who you've unfollowed in the past. Don't worry, if you make up, you can refollow at any time.
Thanks for reading an if you have any thoughts on the new Facebook News Feed, please feel free to share your experiences below.