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22 September 2011

Facebook overhauls News Feed ahead of f8 conference

Rachel Hawkes, account director, Elemental By Rachel Hawkes

Facebook f8 developer conferenceToday is Facebook’s fourth f8 developer conference, and they have not so blatantly hinted that there will be a big announcement.  The event has moved beyond the developer audience however, with speakers this year including the founder of MTV, former MySpace CEO and the CEO of Spotify.

Since Google+ launched in July, Facebook has seemingly been rolling out regular changes to its functionality and terms of use in an effort to stop the ‘death of Facebook’ chants.

The biggest update and hint of what may be unveiled at f8 today came on Tuesday with the introduction of a real-time ticker feed to show what users friends are doing, from what they Like, to what they comment on.  This ticker means that the News Feed will only display what Facebook deems to be the top stories since you last logged in (previously, you could view the News Feed as most recent, or most popular).  

Facebook engineer Mark Tonkelowitz says this change turns Facebook into a personal newspaper.  He explains, “It’s not just the people you hear from that make your news Feed interesting.  It also matters how much you visit Facebook.  If you haven’t returned in a week, you may want to see a summary of top stories first.  If you’ve already visited several times that day, you probably care more about recent news.”

The ticker allows users to interact immediately without leaving the news feed.  Tonkelowitz says, “We hope these improvements make your conversations on Facebook more lively, no matter how often you visit.”

This most recent change, the third in 10 days, hasn’t been as well received as Facebook may have hoped – but they have historically struggled to win users over with any new change.  The top comment on the blog, which at the time of writing has 3241 Likes, comes from Brandi Genest Weeks, “Lame.  Quite frankly I don’t want Facebook deciding who is most important in my life.  I want my news feed to just go chronologically and if I want to hide posts from someone, I will.  Stop changing.  You’re becoming MySpace and I left there for a reason.”

Another comment, from Fiona Robinson with 1843 Likes says, “This is total garbage.  It’s been two weeks since I got this “new feed” and I’m closer and closer to ditching to G+ where they ACTUALLY listen to user feedback!  I’ve complained everywhere possible and haven’t gotten a single helpful response.  Geez, guys.  Usability should be a main concern, and you’re kind of sucking at it.”

Other recent changes include what Facebook is calling an ‘Improved Friends List’, where it is automatically categorising friends (called a ‘smart list’) in what is clearly an attempt to replicate Google+ Circles.  Facebook’s Blake Ross says, “Lists have existed for several years, but you’ve told us how time-consuming it is to organize lists for different parts of your life and keep them up to date.  Friends Lists are completely optional.  If you don’t like lists, you don’t have to use them.”

Changes to the Friends Lists include:

Smart lists – automatically grouping friends according to commonalities they have listed on their profiles such as school, hometown, work.
Close friends and acquaintances – what Facebook says, “you can see your best friends’ photos and posts in one place, and see less from people you’re not as close to”
Better suggestions – adding the ‘right friends to your lists without a lot of effort’

Facebook News feed image

Users will also be able to use the improved Lists can use them to help control which people see what content they post on a post-by-post basis.  Comments to this announcement include, “This is Facebook+?” and “Someone got scared about Google Plus Circles.”

Another user, Denise Rambo, summed up the frustration left by hundreds of others, “Why can’t you just LEAVE STUFF ALONE! I liked Facebook the way it was about a year ago.  I want to see EVERYTHING from ALL OF MY FRIENDS. And I want to see it in CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER from when they FIRST POSTED IT! That way I know what I’ve seen and what I haven’t seen yet.  Every time I turn around SOMETHING has changed and it’s AGGRAVATING having to get used to something new every couple of weeks.  If it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve reconnected with some many old friends and made so many new friendships because of Facebook, I’d GIVE IT UP ALTOGETHER.”

Facebook has also introduced a new Subscribe button.  This can be used to choose what content you see from friends in your News Feed as well as to subscribe to public updates from other people you don’t know, such as journalists, political figures and artists.  This is basically how Google+ works, in that you can add people to a Circle and receive their public updates even if they don’t have you in one of their own Circles.

Facebook’s new Subscribe feature also enables users to choose the level of information they see from a person, from ‘All updates’ to ‘Most updates’ to ‘Important updates only’.  It can be drilled down further than that, by choosing to see only photos from one friend, or no updates on games played by another friend.

Just this morning, yet another feature was quietly introduced.  The ‘Friend Activity’ which is strangely referred to as 1+.  This feature means that when you are visiting a Facebook Page, you can click on the ‘Friend Activity 1+’ and see what your friends involvement with that Page.

The f8 is conference will be available to follow along with live, which you can do via the f8 Facebook Page from 5pm GMT.

Categories: Social media, News

Tags: Facebook, Facebook changes, Google+ Google plus, f8, privacy, friends list, subscribe, news feed, social networks

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