Mike Isaac

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Facebook Opens Up About Its News Feed

Facebook News Feed EventFacebook is sensitive about its News Feed secret sauce. But due to the company’s opacity over how it decides what you will and won’t see in the Feed, it has received its share of bad, bad press.

Facebook has had enough. The company hosted an event with reporters on Tuesday, giving some insight for the first time into how Facebook’s engineers determine what will appear in front of you every time you visit the site.

Top-line takeaway: The company said it will be more transparent about significant changes it makes to the News Feed in the future, posting details about them regularly to Facebook’s business blog.

That includes a small set of changes made today, including a tweak that will surface more older, unseen posts for users in their Feeds. In other words, you won’t just see the timeliest updates every time you open Facebook, but stories that are new to you, as well as stories Facebook thinks you might like to see based on your past 50 interactions on the platform. In Facebook’s testing thus far, Engineering Director Lars Backstrom said they’ve seen bumps in engagement across both user posts and marketer posts after making the change.

But, more important than any little tweak, the event underscores Facebook’s sensitivity about being seen as a company that gives user experience a back seat to items like advertising products and marketing messages.

“There’s a fundamental tension here because, on the consumer side, people are going to use the News Feed for some number of minutes a day, but not all items can possibly or conceivably be consumed,” Chris Cox, Facebook’s VP of Product, said at the briefing. “On the other side, you have publishers who ask ‘Why aren’t people seeing my stuff all the time?’”

Facebook_F380The balance here is a hard one to perfect. Cynics say that Facebook’s goal is to pump as many ads in your Feed as possible in order to juice revenue. Techie idealists would agree with Facebook, which claims that user experience is paramount.

My guess is that the answer, as with most things in life, lies somewhere in between. Obviously, Facebook has to make money, but a company that completely sacrifices user experience at the cost of boosting revenue likely won’t keep its users happy and using the product. The job of guys like Backstrom and fellow product manager Will Cathcart is to walk that line, ultimately taking into account the wealth of user feedback they receive on a second-by-second basis.

Unfortunately, Facebook didn’t detail the philosophy behind its advertising product rankings, and how they determine how many ads fit into your daily Feed. Cathcart compared the Feed loosely to a newspaper, which, along with content, has an allotment of space to fill out with ad inventory. He also noted that the systems were separate from one another, but worked similarly.

Will Facebook’s new public-facing stance on News Feed data quell the next potential backlash from the press and public? We’ll find out soon enough.


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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google