News Feed algorithm change: improving timeliness of posts


Facebook on Thursday announced more changes to its News Feed algorithm, aimed at letting users see posts from the pages and friends they want in a more timely fashion.

The changes revolve around trending topics as well as the time and rate when people like or comment on posts.

Facebook’s Erich Owens, Software Engineer and David Vickrey, Engineering Manager explained the changes in a blog post:

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.

The first major change to the News Feed algoirthm deals with posting regarding a trending topic. As the engineers above wrote, feedback from users indicates that many posts may only be relevant within a certain timeframe, such as when you’re all watching a show or sports match. So when a friend is posting about Orange Is The New Black or Derek Jeter, that post would have a better chance of being seen:

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% increase in people engaging with these stories (e.g., more people share, comment, like or click).

This feels like an awkward way of forcing pages to adapt content to the trending topics, in an effort to increase reach.

The second change examines when users comment or like posts. As Facebook explains, posts that generate lots of engagement shortly after posting have a higher chance of being shown in News Feed, but not so much if activity drops quickly after:

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.

Facebook will take this into consideration during story bumping, when it shows users posts they haven’t seen before.

Facebook is rolling out these changes gradually and says they don’t expect to see major changes in terms of post reach metrics:

If a Page posts about a trending topic or if a post sees a high velocity of engagement early on that then drops off, that post may begin to see increased distribution early on and less distribution over time.

Readers: How do you feel about these changes?