Facebook just announced that it is redesigning the home page’s news feed to combine the Top News and Most Recent feeds. Rather than having to choose between tabs, users will automatically see Top News content first if highly relevant updates have been published since they last checked Facebook, and see Most Recent content first if they’ve been visiting frequently. A Ticker in the right sidebar will display a firehose of real-time updates that users can click to expand and engage with.
Taking the burden of choice off of users by showing them both relevancy filtered and a raw stream of updates at the same time will ensure there is always something compelling waiting on the home page. This could help Facebook turn quick visits to check for new messages or notifications into longer sessions. The merger of the feeds will also keep users from missing important updates or being bored by seeing identical updates in both feeds.
Facebook product manager Keith Schacht tells us “This about seeing the most important content no matter how frequently you check Facebook.” He explains that the improved news feed is akin to a newspaper that shows you the biggest news that broke since you last read rather than just the headlines from the last day. Some users will ge the updated home page today, and Facebook will be fully rolling it out in the coming weeks.
A Single, Dynamic News Feed
When users return to the redesigned home page, they won’t simply see the same feed they were last viewing. Instead, they’ll see a Top News segment at the top of the feed displaying important stories by close friends or those with lots of Likes and comments that they haven’t seen yet, followed by Most Recent-style content.
If nothing critical has been published since their last visit, they’ll immediately see “Recent Stories”. Those with lots of friends or especially active networks might see Top News if they haven’t visited in as little as 15 minutes, though it may take hours for less connected users.
Facebook’s EdgeRank news feed sorting algorithm can be taught a user’s preferences with in-line controls. Clicking ‘X’ next to a story brings up options to mark or unmark an update as top news. Along with the recently added Subscribe options for managing the frequency and types of posts in the feed, these controls will allow power users to refine their news feed. The wide variety of news feed options might overwhelm novice users, but Schacht says they were designed so they could be ignored if users don’t need them.
To further enrich the home page, photos posted to the news feed will appear larger than before. For instance, a post about new photos being added to an album will show the most popular photo from the album at roughly four times the standard news feed photo size. This may get users to open more photos from the feed and begin sifting through albums — an activity that generates tons of time-on-site for Facebook.
To replace the separate Most Recent feed, Facebook has added a real-time firehose of all updates by all of a user’s friends to the right sidebar. The Ticker is even more comprehensive than the old Most Recent feed that would still filter out minor updates about some friends.
To make it small enough to fit beside the primary news feed, the Ticker shows activity stories in plain text such as “Kate O’Neill added a new photo to the album Mobile Uploads”, rather than actually showing the photo. Users can hover over a Ticker update to view a popover of the full story it describes, and click to add Likes or comments. For screens of adequate size, the Ticker snaps to the right sidebar above the Chat buddy list, and users can use a sliding divider to choose to see more Ticker updates or more online friends.
While the old separate feeds did update in real-time, Schacht tells us it wasn’t fast enough to inspire conversation. The Ticker is designed to surface currently occurring activity. For instance, Schacht says “maybe mutual friends are have a conversation shown in the Ticker. You join in and have the serendipitous moment of a shared conversation in real-time.” In this way, users can have an ad hoc online meetup, like a Google+ Hangout that occurs in the feed rather than video.
Simplicity for New Users, Hidden Options for Veterans
With the average Facebook user having less than 200 friends but some having over 1000, Facebook’s design must accomodate a wide variety of use cases. Smart Lists, Subscribe, the rumored Read, Watched, and Listend buttons, and today’s news feed changes all seem to promoting an interface where users don’t have to make any choices or do any work by default, but can opt to refine their experience.
In this case, novice users who visits the home page will immediately see popular stories first, recent stories if they’ve read all the popular ones, and real-time stories in the periphery without a single click. Power users can then apply Friend Lists filters, mark or unmark stories as Top News, and dial up or down the presence of specific friends to customize the news feed.
Facebook tells us tests of the redesign have received “positive reactions” from users. However, when we spotted the single news feed and Ticker last month, the response from those seeing it was almost universally negative. Though Facebook users are always resistant to change, some had valid points about the Ticker being too cumbersome and requiring too many clicks to scan large volumes of updates.
It may take some getting used to, and Facebook will need strike the right balance between Top News and Recent Stories in the primary feed, but the redesign could make Facebook a more relaxing experience. Rather than having to click multiple tabs, worry major updates have slipped by, and miss content Facebook hasn’t deemed important enough, all this content will be immediately available from the home page.