For the past few months, Facebook has been testing several home page redesigns that add a second, real-time news feed to the right of the central Top News feed. In the latest tested design, Facebook has removed the Most Recent tab of the news feed and replaced it with a real-time activity feed that is displayed at the top of the Chat sidebar.
This design may feel more familiar to users since it leaves birthdays, upcoming events, and ads in their traditional place to the left. However, the design reduces above-the-fold real estate for the buddy list such that might have to do more scrolling to find friends to Chat with. It also makes ads less prominent and thus less valuable than a previous real-time feed design that kept ads visible no matter where on the home page a user scrolled.
Testing Different Designs
Facebook has long been rumored to be searching for a design of the home page that would do away with the two tab news feed, as some users never click away from the default Top News feed to view the Most Recent real-time feed. By showing both feeds at the same time the site could make sure the home page always displays both highly compelling older stories as well as fresh content, drawing more time-on-site from both those just quickly checking Facebook and those who’ve already read all their Top News.
In June we spotted the first of the new two-feed designs called “Happening Now”, which replaced the right side of the home page’s upcoming events and birthdays with a feed of text-only real-time activity stories about the actions of friends, such as “Eric Eldon posted a link”. These entries could be clicked to reveal an overlay displaying the full, rich media news feed story. Some users complained about losing easy access to birthdays, upcoming events, and the rich media Most Recent feed that helped them find posts related to the social games they played.
Later that month, we saw another design that kept the left navigation sidebar and the right live-feed sidebar fixed but let users scroll their central news feed, which itself first showed Top News stories and then further down showed Most Recent stories. Similar the the previous design, this could help Pages get more impressions for their news feed posts, but would also give more exposure to ads and let users access the top and left navigation bars at any time. However, users might have been jarred by only being able to scroll the central feed.
Facebook has confirmed the tests multiple times over the last couple months, saying “We are currently testing a feature within News Feed that gives people the ability to see what their friends are commenting on and ‘liking,’ as these actions are being taken on Facebook. This test includes a small percentage of Facebook users, just a fraction of a percent. In the coming weeks, as we learn more from this test, we’ll keep making improvements and may expand it to more people.”
Now, Facebook has combined elements of the previous design with the Chat sidebar it launched last month, which dynamically morphs Chat from an unfoldable button to a ever-present sidebar to the right of birthdays, Events, and ads when a user’s screen has enough space. This “Ticker” feed design also mimics the new “Games Ticker” which appears while users are playing games and displays stories about game usage by friends.
A screenshot from user Robert Dickbert shows the real-time feed taking up the top half of the Chat sidebar, leaving less room for the online statuses of friends and in some cases forcing users to scroll down the sidebar to see their whole buddy list. In the tests, users didn’t have a Most Recent feed, only a “Highlights” or “Stories From The Last 5 Day” feed similar to Top News. This would make it difficult to quickly consume a large volume of rich media real-time updates.
Top News, Most Recent, and Ticker?
I believe a version of the home page that offered the Ticker and Top News but also provided the Most Recent feed would be optimal — basically how it is now, plus the Ticker. It would preserve all the old functionality and make a real-time activity feed visible to all users as the currently tested design does, but also let power users read the Most Recent feed’s full, rich-media versions of news feed stories without having to expand each from the sidebar individually. This design wouldn’t reduce the clutter of the home page, but a two-tab central feed with a real-time second feed could give gamers, casual users, and power users what they want.