Facebook’s News Feed Redesign Rollout Starting at 10AM PT Today

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new-home-page-october-2009Facebook’s newest version of the News Feed, which demotes the real-time stream in favor of the more “traditional” top stories stream, is rolling out to users today starting at 10AM US Pacific Time. Most of the details are as we reported earlier this week, but we do have a little more information now about Facebook’s algorithm for choosing top stories.

As expected, the default News Feed that users will see is becoming “Today’s Top News,” which Facebook’s Peter Deng says will have the “most relevant information” when users get to the site. “The spirit of the change is that you’ll see a summary of stuff you missed while you were gone,” Deng says.

There’s two important points to note about the Top News stream:

  1. Stories will be chosen for Top News based on a variety of undisclosed factors, including but not limited to “how many people comment and like” on stories, “who you’re close with,” and “who you interact with frequently,” Deng says. More on that in a moment.
  2. Facebook is adding user activity stories back to the News Feed – like friend acceptances, relationship updates, event RSVPs, group memberships, and becoming a fan of a Page. In the real time stream, only explicitly “shared” content appeared in the stream.

The real-time stream will still be available via the “Live Feed” tab at the top of the page. When viewing the Live Feed, stories will now actually automatically appear in real time. And once you switch to the Live Feed tab, you’ll see it by default for the rest of your session.

Here’s what the Top News stream will look like (though note, Deng says there will be a small status update composer by default, like in the Live Feed screenshot below). Note, “Highlights” have been removed and other content on the right side of the page has moved up.

new-news-feed

And here’s a view of the Live Feed:

new-home-page-october-2009

Impact on Developer Ecosystem

Deng says application stories will be selected for display in Top Stories in “exactly the same way as status updates” – meaning the amount of comment and like responses they’ve gotten, how close Facebook thinks you are to the person, and how much you interact with them. We assume Facebook Connect stories will be treated in the same way.

It will be very interesting to see how the changes to the News Feed affect applications that have been optimized for growth largely through the real-time stream since Facebook launched the real-time stream in March. Now that the system has changed again, developers’ incentives are also shifting. As always, those that can navigate the Top News algorithm the best will see disproportionate growth.

Impact on Facebook Pages

Deng says Page stories will also be selected in the same way as status updates and application stories – i.e., depending on how much response the stories get and how much you interact with the Page. However, all Page managers should note that this now means that all of your Page’s updates will now no longer necessarily show up in your fans’ News Feeds in real time (in the Top Stories view).

Now, Page managers need to start thinking about News Feed Optimization (NFO) too. In other words, what do you need to do to maximize your Page’s updates in the News Feed? According to Deng, comments from a user’s friends on a Page story is an important factor in getting it to show up, so encouraging comments and likes more would be a good way to start. Keeping fans coming back to your Page as much as possible is also now much more important.

Going Forward

We think Facebook’s move back to a “Top Stories” default view of News Feed is the right move for maximizing user engagement. Most people simply aren’t able to stay glued to Facebook all day and catch all the content that’s most interesting to them in a real-time stream format, and Facebook says it got a lot of feedback from users that they were missing valuable content they wanted to see.

Now, by keeping the levers behind News Feed behind closed doors, Facebook again has the freedom to do a lot of testing and optimization to increase engagement on the home page by providing the most compelling content to users. Those who depend on the News Feed for their own distribution and engagement will be watching closely.