Why Facebook’s latest newsfeed change will barely affect you

Today Facebook announced it was going to make some tweaks that essentially likes and comments less significant in terms of deciding what to show users in their newsfeeds.

This article by Mashable sums it up quite well, with a single glaring exception that shows how even industry commentators don’t really understand why they’re seeing the content they are on Facebook

“These users will likely welcome this week’s change. I, for one, always hated seeing what posts my ex-boyfriend engaged with.”

This issue is very common. In one talk I give I explain in a simple way how the newsfeed algorithm works. Facebook records both visible and invisible engagement:

Visible: Likes, comments and shares.
Invisible: Clicks, photo views, watching videos.

Facebook knows when you interact with content, so clicking on a photo to enlarge it is recorded behind the scenes. That interaction is the very reason you will then see more of that person’s content in your newsfeed later on, whether it’s them posting a photo, liking a page or commenting on a post.

Facebook shows you what your ex-boyfriend is up to, because you’re interested in what they’re up to – which is something a lot of people would never publicly admit to.

Every single time I mention this in a talk, the room is split between laughter “Ha ha oh that’s why!” and mildly embarrassed seat shifting “Oh, I see.”

omg how can they know?

Mashable’s JP Mangalindan goes on to say:

“But that also depends on how Facebook executes two other News Feed tweaks: allowing posts from the same people back-to-back in sparse News Feeds, and prioritizing updates from Facebook friends users engage with the most.”

The key word here is engage. Because Facebook clearly DOES show you updates from people you engage with the most – but regular FB users don’t realise or consider that sitting through an automatically starting video is ‘engagement’. IF Facebook does tweak the algorithm to heavily prioritise only visible engagement, it will make a reasonably significant change to people’s newsfeed, but as it is I don’t think this change will particularly affect what you see right now.

“[This change] will hopefully yield a little less News Feed noise.”

The average person looks at 3-400 stories (updates, posts, whatever you want to call them) each day in their newsfeed. There are over 1500 stories competing for these spots (it is likely this number is a lot higher for regular users). My theory is that this latest change will have the biggest effect on people who don’t have lots of friends who use Facebook a lot. These are the kind of people expect Facebook to show them every update from every friend and don’t even consider that FB doesn’t work that way. People who want to see every update from friends of theirs, even if it means seeing a few in a row from the same person. These users will get a newsfeed more inline with their expectations.

For the majority of people reading this, who will be active Facebook users with 2-500+ generally active FB friends, I think it’s unlikely to have any significant effect.

For instance when was the last time you remember seeing that a friend of yours liked a particular post which wasn’t promoted and wasn’t a friend you engage with regularly? That sort of activity already ranks quite low down in the newsfeed algorithm, so unless you’re hitting Facebook particularly hard and reading a lot more posts than usual, you may never dip into posts that individual friends have merely liked or made a comment on.

Cheers,
Steve

 

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