NEWS FEED: Time Is of the Essence, as Facebook Tweaks Algorithm Again

By David Cohen 

TrendingHeadline650Facebook announced two tweaks to its News Feed algorithm aimed at ensuring that the content users see is timely: Posts related to trending topics will be ranked higher, and the rate at which users like or comment on posts shortly after they go live will be factored in.

Software engineer Erich Owens and engineering manager David Vickrey detailed the changes to the News Feed algorithm in a Newsroom post, saying that the effects on pages should be minimal, as the tweaks will be “rolled out gradually,” and pages will likely not see “significant changes in distribution.”

Owens and Vickrey explained the thinking behind the algorithm changes:

Our goal with News Feed is to show everyone the right content at the right time so they don’t miss the stories that are important to them. We’ve heard feedback that there are some instances where a post from a friend or a page you are connected to is only interesting at a specific moment — for example, when you are both watching the same sports game, or talking about the season premiere of a popular TV show. There are also times when a post that is a day or two old may not be relevant to you anymore. Our latest update to News Feed ranking looks at two new factors to determine if a story is more important in the moment than other types of updates.

On factoring in trending topics, they wrote:

One way we show timely content higher up in News Feed is to show people stories about things that are trending as soon as they occur, so you can immediately know what your friends or favorite pages are saying about the stories of the day. This means that when a friend or page you are connected to posts about something that is currently a hot topic of conversation on Facebook, that post is more likely to appear higher up in News Feed, so you can see it sooner. Early testing of a small percentage of posts has shown that this update on average leads to a more than 6 percent increase in people engaging with these stories (e.g., more people share, comment, like or click).

And they discussed weighing when people like and comment on posts:

The second update takes into account the rate at which people are liking or commenting on a post. Currently one of the signals we look at is the total number of likes that a post has received when determining how high up to show it in News Feed. With this update, we are going to begin looking at when people are choosing to like, comment and share.

If people are engaging with the post right after it is posted, and not as much a few hours later, this suggests that the post was most interesting at the time it was posted, but potentially less interesting at a later date. Based on this signal, it is more likely to appear higher in News Feed earlier on and lower at a later date.

Finally, they detailed a change to the way posts are bumped up in News Feed:

We are also going to start taking this signal into account when considering which stories we bump in News Feed. Bumping is when we resurface stories that people did not scroll down far enough to see but are still getting lots of engagement. This is one more way that we’re working to identify timely posts so we can show them nearer the top of your News Feed sooner.

Readers: What do you think of the latest changes to Facebook’s News Feed algorithm?