Facebook to overhaul its News Feed

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MENLO PARK, Calif. — Facebook has redesigned its social network to address complaints that the News Feed on its Web site has turned into a jumble of monotonous musings and random photos.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a new look for the social network's News Feed, the place where its users see what's happening with their friends and family.  JEFF CHIU/ASSOCIATED PRESS
JEFF CHIU/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a new look for the social network's News Feed, the place where its users see what's happening with their friends and family.

In an attempt to breathe new life into Facebook’s News Feed, the company will introduce controls that allow people to sort streams of photos and other material into organized sections.

With the makeover unveiled Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hopes to turn the News Feed into something more like a newspaper tailored to the particular interests of each of the social network’s more than 1 billion worldwide users.

Facebook intends to roll out the changes in phases. It will probably be six months to a year before everyone who accesses Facebook on a personal computer sees the revamped News Feed, the company said. The face-lift is likely to be more jarring for those who only visit Facebook on a PC because it incorporates some features already deployed in the social network’s mobile applications.

The new features will enable users to choose streams of content that might feature nothing but photos or posts from their closest friends, family members or favorite businesses. Or they will be able to peruse content about music, or sports, as if they were grabbing a section of a newspaper. Other newspaperlike changes will include lists of events that users’ social circles have flagged for the upcoming weekend and other summaries meant to resemble a table of contents.

By adding personal touches, Facebook is acknowledging that the computer-generated formulas that it has been using to determine the content shown to each user have become less effective as the social circles within its network have widened to include a more diverse array of information.

“This gives people more power to dig deeper into the topics they care about,” Zuckerberg said while discussing the makeover at Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif. headquarters.

Facebook still intends to rely on algorithms to select some material to feature on the main part of the News Feed, much like newspaper editors determine what goes on the front page.

More space on the News Feed’s front page and other sections space will be devoted to pictures and video. These visual elements have become dominant features on Facebook because smartphones and tablet computers are equipped with high-quality cameras that make it easier to share snapshots and clips.

About 50 percent of the posts on News Feed include a photo or video, up from 25 percent in late 2011, Zuckerberg said.

The changes to News Feed are meant to make Facebook a more fun place to hang out and to avoid becoming an Internet has-been like other once trendy social networks such as Friendster and MySpace.

Although Facebook’s website remains one of the Internet’s top destinations, there have been early signs that the social network is losing some of its pizazz, particularly among younger Web surfers who are starting to spend more time on other social hubs such as Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram, a photo-sharing site that Facebook bought for $521 million last summer.

A phenomenon, known as “Facebook Fatigue,” was recently documented in a report from Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. The study found that about 61 percent of Facebook users had taken a hiatus for reasons that range from boredom to too much irrelevant information to Lent.

That’s a worrisome trend for Facebook because the company needs to ensure that its audience keeps coming back so it can learn more about their interests and, ultimately, sell more of the advertising that brings in most of the company’s revenue.

“I don’t think it had turned into a crisis, but Facebook was probably seeing some internal data that was telling them they needed to do something,” said Greg Sterling, a senior analyst for Opus Research.

Facebook has been struggling to find the right balance between keeping its fun-loving audience happy and selling enough ads to please investors who want the company to accelerate its revenue growth.

Wall Street seems to think the redesigned News Feed might be a step in the right direction. Facebook’s stock gained $1.21, or 4.4 percent, to $28.66 in Thursday’s late afternoon trading.

The mobile-friendly redesign of News Feed underscores the company’s intensifying focus on smartphones and tablet computers as more of its users rely on those devices to interact on the social network.

About 23 percent, or $306 million, of Facebook’s advertising revenue came from the mobile market during the final three months of last year.

MORE ABOUT THE REDESIGN

FACEBOOK FACE-LIFT: The Internet’s largest social network is freshening up its News Feed, the place where Facebook’s 1 billion users see the latest updates and photos shared by their friends, family and favorite businesses.

WHAT’S DIFFERENT: As the changes unveiled Thursday roll out during the next few months, the pictures and videos posted in the News Feed will be more prominently displayed, and Facebook’s users will get more control to dictate the kinds of material they want to see.

STAYING RELEVANT: The changes are aimed at addressing complaints from Facebook users who are visiting less frequently because the News Feed isn’t catering to their interests.


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