Facebook tweaks News Feed algorithm to give more weight to relevance, user connections

Facebook is constantly tweaking its News Feed algorithm, taking into account publishers’ desires to have more fans and users see posts and balancing that with users’ desire for their best experience. Facebook announced in a media session Tuesday two changes to News Feed that they feel will enhance the user experience and create a more engaging News Feed:

  • Story Bumping: Stories you haven’t seen yet because they were “below the fold,” on News Feed are eligible to be bumped up further in News Feed the next time you check Facebook.
  • Last Actor: Facebook will take into account the last 50 engagements of a user, giving more weight to people and pages the user has recently interacted with.

These changes, mainly Last Actor, give users more of what they crave: control over their News Feed.

For more information about Story Bumping and Last Actor, check out sister site AllFacebook.

Facebook also tested something that would give chronological order more weight within its rankings, but Lars Backstrom (pictured above), Facebook’s Engineering Manager for News Feed Ranking, said that it actually led to less engagement. Facebook hasn’t scrapped this option, as Backstrom said that it’s something that the company is still working on, knowing that many people do want to see posts in chronological order.

Facebook is also taking users behind the curtain a little bit more to share what’s going on and inform people about News Feed algorithm changes. The company explained how it ranks stories in a blog post:

With so many stories, there is a good chance people would miss something they wanted to see if we displayed a continuous, unranked stream of information. Our ranking isn’t perfect, but in our tests, when we stop ranking and instead show posts in chronological order, the number of stories people read and the likes and comments they make decrease.

So how does News Feed know which of those 1,500 stories to show? By letting people decide who and what to connect with, and by listening to feedback. When a user likes something, that tells News Feed that they want to see more of it; when they hide something, that tells News Feed to display less of that content in the future. This allows us to prioritize an average of 300 stories out of these 1,500 stories to show each day.

The changes that Facebook made recently were tested both among employees and a select group of Facebook users, and Backstrom said that there was positive response.

Facebook tested Story Bumping among 7,000 daily active users in July. With Story Bumping in place for these users, there was a five percent increase in stories seen from friends, an 8 percent increase in stories seen from pages, and a jump from 57 to 70 percent in overall stories read. Facebook also tested the Story Bumping change with 80 percent of its own employees, and Backstrom said that there was only one complaint.

These changes do enact more weight for chronological posts, but maybe not in the ways users intended. While Story Bumping may certainly hurt the chronological order, Last Actor should be a popular change among users. Facebook guesses that if you’ve commented on a certain person’s posts a few times in the past week, you probably want to see more updates from this person. If you’ve shared or engaged with a certain page’s posts recently, you probably want to see more updates from this page.

Last Actor achieves the goal of giving users more control over what they see in News Feed by bringing timely posts from people they regularly engage with. As News Feed Product Manager Will Cathcart told reporters Tuesday, users do have controls that affect what they see in News Feed. They can like, comment on, and share posts that they like, and ignore or hide posts that they don’t. Based on a user’s past interactions and relationship with that publisher (either page or user), Facebook assigns a score to future posts. Photos from a friend you’ve recently engaged with would be weighed higher than a post from someone you haven’t engaged with in a few weeks.

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