Mike Isaac

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In Facebook’s News Feed Redesign, the Focus Is on the Photos

zuckerberg_mobile_consistencyIf nothing else, Facebook knows this: Looks matter.

That has been the theme of Facebook’s revamped News Feed unveiled on Thursday morning — a heavy emphasis on fuller photos, larger check-ins and location displays, and an overall re-think of the way people experience the ceaseless barrage of information flowing through the feed. (Expect it to trickle out on the Web today, and across the mobile apps in the coming weeks.)

The company’s conceit for the new look takes a media-focused tack: “We want to give everyone in the world the best personalized newspaper in the world,” Zuckerberg said at an event at Facebook’s Menlo Park campus on Thursday. And design director Julie Zhuo said that this newspaper is populated with “stories,” or Facebook’s redesigned take on the status update.

But forget all of that. This redesign is about visuals, not the bland, black-and-white text that makes up the stuff of status updates. Photos are full-bleed. Check-ins and “Liking” brands puts more prominence on the photography and less on the words. You can even sort by different categories, including exclusively updates featuring only snapshots. (You’re able to sort by other types of content — like music — as well.)

Facebook Newsfeed Photo

This is all not entirely surprising. According to a source I spoke with recently, Facebook News Feed engineers see the most engagement from users on photography and visuals that appear inside the News Feed. And every time Facebook tweaks the algorithm to show the best content that users engage with the most, photos still float to being the most prominent inside the feed — so much so that Facebook must tweak the algorithm to show more text-based status update content, even if that isn’t the stuff people want to look at the most.

Zuckerberg acknowledges the importance of photos, and the ways people use them. “The types of stories that we tell when we communicate with a photo as opposed to text are completely different,” he said onstage.

But Facebook’s actions make clear that this is the direction it has gone in for some time. Look at the massive $730 million dollar buy of Instagram. Look at the slow “Pinterestification” of certain topics. Look at how much attention photos have received on the phone.

One outlier — how will Facebook integrate Instagram, the quintessential “visual” app of the day? Zuckerberg said it’ll be treated like any other app in the ecosystem.

Which is sort of curious, considering another one of today’s themes was “consistency” across platforms. Facebook’s News Feed redesign looks the same on the Web interface as it does on mobile now. But Instagram has a standalone Web site and continues to have a mobile app separate from the main Facebook app. Not sure how that’ll sync up across Facebook as a whole.

Facebook Interface Consistency

It’s a bit funny, too, if you look across the aisle at one of Facebook’s main competitors: Twitter. The microblogging service also revamped its product in a major way this year, adding more prominence to photos, videos and story links from outsiders. It also launched redesigned iPad and mobile apps, aiming for a “consistent” design across all platforms. Even Google+ is heavily invested in the photo-centric focus, blowing up images across all platforms.

So essentially, it’s a race across all platforms to look as pretty as possible. That’s where engagement lies, and how you’ll hook your user base in the long term.

After all, you need to give the people what they want.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik