The Future Of Facebook's Feed Is Granular Filters

As the uproar over the new Facebook design continues, many are getting used to the new features and trying to effectively navigate through the increased number of stories that pop-up on their homepage daily. I’ve been polling users about their feedback on the new design over the past few days and one thing that continuously pops-up is the comments is a desire to filter out application stories.

Currently Facebook lets users view feed stories based on whether they originated. If you’d like to view all of the stories from a single application you can do that. Want to limit stories to all of your friends in a single friend list? You can do that to. There are still some inherent limitations to the new feed but Facebook has taken a huge step forward.

The Live Feed Becomes the Main Feed Without Streaming

In the previous design, there was a tab called “Live Feed” which let users view a streaming list of all the stories being produced by their friends. That “Live Feed” has become the primary feed for all users except that it doesn’t automatically update without refreshing the page. For the time being I would consider the lack of real-time updates negligible and would guess that it will help Facebook temporarily boost their page views.

What’s important about this redesign is that all users now have completely unfiltered access to their feeds whether or not they like it. This overload of feed content creates an awkward tension for users which would drive them to begin using granular feed filters. I would argue that feed filters will be the most important feature of feeds in the future because they will let each user create their own custom news feed.

Introduction of Granular Feed Filters

Right now Facebook provides a simple “X” to remove individuals and public profiles from our feeds but in reality, we don’t want to remove those people from our feeds. As the image below illustrates, I can remove Howard Lindzon from my feed if he has been tweeting too much about stocks and I’m tired of hearing it (he’d never do something like that though ;)).

This is an extremely inefficient system though because I like some of the things Howard says. So what I’d really like to do is temporarily limit access to his status updates and also remove his Google Reader items for example. Using granular filter settings this is all possible. I’ve created a quick mockup of what it would look like in the image below.

The ability to control what stories you hear about someone is priceless. Not even Twitter or FriendFeed provides such granular filters and in a world of content overload, granular feed filters will be a requirement of any feed service. My guess is that Facebook will be implementing these filters in the very near future as they listen to the feedback from users.

Content Overload Becomes A Thing of the Past

The version of feed filters that I mocked up below are one step above the existing filters but they could theoretically get even more granular. For the time being an application level filter should be sufficient as users begin to train the system about what information they like most. Granular feed filters applied to other news sources will prove to be extremely powerful.

For example, you may like reading news from the New York Times but only their technology section or a specific author. Through settings that are configured by the New York Times you will be able to select which author you like. Currently you can do this through RSS feeds but the reality is that the masses do not know what RSS is and they probably never will.

By starting with content overload, users will be forced to begin applying the filters that are given to them and eventually those feeds will become extremely customized to the point where users will have no option but return to Facebook daily for their custom feed. There’s one big value provided by granular filters: feeds can be opened to developers.

Developers Get What They Want

Developers have been demanding access to Facebook’s feeds for a long time now but Facebook has yet to relent. Mark Zuckerberg has emphasized the company’s commitment to openness and I honestly believe that this openness includes full access to feeds. As long as Facebook is the primary source for a user’s granular feed filters, and those filters are held under lock and key, Facebook and developers can have a win/win situation.

Facebook controls the filters and developers get unfiltered access to the data. Those filters can also be used to improve the advertisements that are displayed to users. If you are a fan of the New York Times but have removed the majority of their content from your feed, the strength of your brand affinity is substantially lower than a user that has unfiltered access to the popular news source.

Being able to measure the strength of brand affinity will add immense value to Facebook advertising.

Everybody Wins With Granular Feed Filters!

With the introduction of granular feed filters developers win with unfiltered access, users win via better applications and a more custom tailored feed, and Facebook wins with priceless user data. In other words there is no option to avoid granular feed filters. I would bet heavily that we will see the introduction of more granular filters over the coming weeks and months as Facebook moves toward complete openness.

Do you think granular feed filters would resolve the majority of complaints you have about the new design?

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