Facebook’s Revamped News Feed Emulates Newspapers, Twitter

But Zuckerberg and company say little about ads

As Facebook users’ News Feeds become ever-more flooded with status updates, photos, article links, etc.—leading the average user to only see 16 percent of the content—Facebook has been presented with a massive problem: how to unclogging the stream.

On Thursday at the company’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters, Facebook executives showed off their solution: a set of new category-specific feeds that borrow heavily from newspapers’ and magazines’ sectional layouts, as well as classic Web portals.

“What we’ve been trying to do is give everyone in the world the best personalized newspaper we can,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, detailing how that newspaper should contain a front page and the ability to “drill down into any individual topic you want.”

Facebook users will still be able to access the standard News Feed that relies on Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm to determine the best content to show an individual user, but Facebook is adding what News Feed tech lead Chris Struhar called a “switcher” at the top-right corner of the page. That tool allows users to switch to one of the several category-specific feeds Facebook, which will begin rolling out to desktop users today and mobile and tablet users over the next few weeks.

Think of the switcher drop-down as a magazine’s table of contents, with each category feed as a glossy section. Sections include a collection of just posts from friends; another for photos; another for music; and another for the official Facebook Pages a user likes.

Let’s break down each new feed, starting with the one marketers will care most about. Back in November, Facebook began rolling out a Pages-only feed, which appears to be the backbone for an entirely brand-friendly feed. But instead of calling it the Pages feed, Facebook has now dubbed it the Following feed.

That titular decision could have been made because users might not like the generic sound of a Pages feed—though Zuckerberg said almost 30 percent of content in the average News Feed comes from Pages. But the Following designation seems more suited for the feed’s expected content—which isn't just about brands. Within the Following feed, users will be able to see articles shared by publications they like as well as by their friends, essentially creating Facebook’s social RSS-styled answer to Twitter’s position as the social newspaper of choice.

Seemingly in response to recent criticism that Facebook’s keep brands’ and publishers’ content from fans, Struhar explicitly said that “the Following feed is where you will see every single post from the Pages and public figures you like” and that feed’s content will be organized “in chronological order to make sure publishers know their fans can see every post they make.”

So that will make brands (and presumably Mark Cuban) happy, but Facebook’s answer to the question around feed-specific ads may not. Zuckerberg told reporters after the event that Facebook hasn’t decided yet how it will handle ads within the new content-specific feeds. Um, stay tuned…

As for the other new feeds, photos appear to be the most desired. Zuckerberg said almost 50 percent of the average News Feed’s content is photos and visual content. Facebook users can now limit their feeds to that content with the new Photos feed. Conceivably that category feed will also pull in other visual content like images from Pinterest shared to Facebook, though execs didn’t explicitly say as much.  Facebook’s director of design Julie Zhuo did call out Pinterest specifically and say that the new design gives those images more prominence, while showing a mock-up of pins shared to Facebook with enlarged images.

The new Music feed may sound like a spot to see all the Spotify songs you’re friends are listening to, but it’s also designed as a sort-of social Pitchfork.com. Shared songs and playlists will pop up there, but so will Page posts from musicians users have liked as well as posts promoting concerts near an individual users and information on album releases.

The All Friends feed is pretty straightforward. It’s where you can see all the posts from only your friends in chronological order.

As mentioned above, the new News Feed (or Feeds plural) will roll out to desktop first and then to Facebook’s mobile properties, but it’s design inspiration took the opposite course. Facebook has expanded News Feed beyond the less than 40 percent of the screen it currently occupies on the desktop site and put the various tabs currently along its left side in a drawer that users will be able to access when mousing to the left edge of the screens, as is currently done on the mobile sites and apps. “The story we’re trying to adhere to is getting Facebook out of the way as much as possible,” said Facebook’s vp of product Chris Cox.