Facebook gives priority to friends in News Feed change

Social network changes algorithm to make 3 changes to users' News Feed

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Over the next few weeks, Facebook users may see a dramatic difference in what they see in their News Feeds.

Facebook announced on Tuesday that it is changing the algorithm that handles what posts, photos and videos users are shown on their News Feeds.

The change is, in large part, geared to giving users more information from their favorite friends.

The concern is that Facebook is deciding for users who those best friends are, which may be a problem for some users.

The world's largest social network, though, says it's trying to give users more of what they want.

"The goal of News Feed is to show you the content that matters to you," wrote Max Eulenstein, Facebook's product manager, and Lauren Scissors, the company's user experience researcher, in a blog post. "This means we need to give you the right mix of updates from friends and public figures, publishers, businesses and community organizations you are connected to. This balance is different for everyone depending on what people are most interested in learning about every day."

The social network recently surveyed users, asking them what could be better about their News Feeds, which is the main page where users see posts and comments from their friends, as well as pages from businesses and organizations they follow.

Based on user response, Eulenstein and Scissors said they are making three changes.

For people who don't have a lot of online friends or who don't follow many pages, they will now be able to see multiple posts in a row from the same source.

The second change is for users who many Facebook friends. Now they'll see more content from their favorite friends.

"We've also learned that people are worried about missing important updates from the friends they care about," the network's execs wrote. "For people with many connections this is particularly important, as there is a lot of content for them to see each day. The second update tries to ensure that content posted directly by the friends you care about, such as photos, videos, status updates or links, will be higher up in News Feed so you are less likely to miss it."

The third change will give a lower priority to stories and posts that users' friends comment on and a higher priority to friends' own posts.

"This makes a lot of sense," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "The key to keeping eyeballs is to maintain relevance. If you see more of what you like seeing, you will come back more often. It's a little creepy having Facebook figure out who you care more about, but it shouldn't be hard, and I think few people will object. Most will be pleased."

By giving users more of what Facebook thinks they want, users should be happier with their social experience on the site, Gottheil added.

Not all analysts agree, though.

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said the next few weeks should be telling. If users see a big difference in the information their getting in their News Feed, they might not be so happy with Facebook making these decisions for them.

However, Enderle also noted that people with a lot of friends and pages that they follow would be inundated with information if Facebook didn't parse through it all and pull out what users are likely to want to see most.

"It does look like Facebook is trying to increase the utility of the service, but they [aren't very good] at explaining that," he said. "The utility with Facebook drops the more people you follow, and that likely speaks to why they have been losing a high percentage of customers. If this works, it should increase the value of Facebook and help them retain a higher percentage of users."

Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst, said his concern is that this algorithm change will further anger users who already are angry about Facebook's making decisions about what posts they see on a regular basis.

"This typically ticks off the customer, and that's exactly what Facebook is doing more and more, year after year," said Kagan. "The problem is what Facebook… chooses to focus on and the methods they choose simply poke at the users."

Even if users are angry, they're unlikely to ditch Facebook because of the lack of choice in popular social networks where they can connect with their friends and relatives.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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