News Feed is the next Facebook pillar in need of an overhaul

When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg debuted Graph Search in January, he explained it as being one of the three pillars of the social network. He sees Timeline, News Feed and Search as the primary ways users experience the Facebook graph and build new connections.

Timeline is the company’s reinvented approach to the profile, and Graph Search is a new take on how to navigate Facebook and discover things about your friends and the world. But News Feed, despite its many redesigns over the years, hasn’t had the sort of transformation that the other two pillars have seen in the past 18 months. That’s bound to change, perhaps even this year.

Not only is News Feed due for an overhaul, reports from Business Insider and TechCrunch support this notion. Business Insider heard from someone close to Facebook VP of Product Chris Cox, who is reportedly tasked with evolving the feed. TechCrunch got a peek at an unlaunched version of the Facebook mobile app that puts content into more immersive feeds organized by category.

As Zuckerberg often explains, the amount that people share on Facebook doubles each year, whether because of new features like location tagging, third-party apps like Spotify or the proliferation of connected devices. Combine that with the explosion of Facebook page marketing and advertising, and it’s clear that News Feed will have to evolve. At Facebook’s current state, more sharing either means a more crowded feed or a lot of information left out. Neither is ideal, so we could see the company address this by giving users more options to see what they want when they want it.

Graph Search is a start. Users can look up people, places, photos, pages and apps, either to navigate to something specific or to get recommendations and discover new things. But not only is this limited by what isn’t yet indexed — status updates, Open Graph apps, links — it’s too much work for users. Graph Search serves a great purpose when people want to seek something out, but that’s the opposite of News Feed. News Feed is about having interesting content pushed to you.

To reinvent News Feed, Facebook needs to apply the power of its ranking algorithms to different categories users can select at will, whether its news articles that friends and pages are sharing, videos they’ve posted, food they ate, movies they’re talking about or products they’re interested in. Facebook already has a separate pages feed, games feed and music feed. The social network could create others for movies, products and more. But simply splitting News Feed into many more feeds would be a ho-hum change, even if it would be useful. Instead, Facebook could combine this idea with a radical redesign that considers the ideal format for each type of story or content.

Imagine if the music feed wasn’t simply a feed, as it appears above, but a playlist that began as you browsed the artists your friends recently Liked or the latest concerts that were coming up near you. There could be a section for videos and YouTube links which begin playing fullscreen when you click play. Similarly, your friends photos could be a fullscreen slideshow. News articles could be presented in more of a broadsheet design with options to save stories to read later, either on the web or mobile. Status updates could work well in a Tumblr-like layout.

We’ve also seen trends of Facebook putting stories into the feed that do not originate with friends. Instead, they’re aggregations of what’s trending among other users or recommendations based on what Facebook knows about an individual. There’s upcoming events, trending articles and recently released albums modules, for example. These types of stories could be very important to a new version of the feed. A page dedicated to movies, for instance, could highlight the most talked about movies on Facebook on a given day, as well as those currently most popular among friends. This could automatically pull in posts from movie pages and movie-related Open Graph apps like Rotten Tomatoes and Netflix. Something like this would also lend itself well to sponsored content and e-commerce opportunities.

These sorts of dynamic dashboards that show the latest stories about a user’s friends and interests in a format that is optimized for each category could be an interesting evolution for News Feed, which can’t contain everything people share, but could serve as the gateway for people to dive into other areas more deeply whenever they want.