tweaking how the news feed surfaces content, with a couple major changes within the last several months. The trick is to be able to present relevant content near the top of the feed while still holding to a semblance of chronological order. Reports have surfaced that Facebook may be cooking up a filtering tool to increase relevance in its news feed.The news feed has become the de facto primary interface for social media sites. Over the last several years Facebook has been
While the public awaits the full roll-out of Google Plus, Facebook has a significant opportunity to create a robust news feed product that will put Plus to shame when the mass of users compare them side-by-side.
An Inside Facebook reader sent in a screen shot of a new filtering option with the header "Choose What You Want To See" (see right). This could be an extremely relevant tool as the Facebook stream evolves and tries to outclass Google Plus in the battle of platforms. Inside Facebook notes that the screen shot may be a fake, but the notion of filters starts an interesting conversation.
Google Plus News Feed Still Needs To Grow Up
While Google Plus is a good product, it is still in the midst of testing. When you log in to the service Plus still notes that it is in a field trial, the same message that has been on the welcome screen since the service debuted on June 28. One of the primary faults with Google Plus at this point is how it handles the news feed. Google has augmented the irritating FriendFeed-like "bumping" where posts with new comments jump back to the top of the feed, but there are still perfections that Google could make to the product to make it much better.
For instance, Google Plus has a habit of what we can call "jumping." That is when you are reading or writing a post in the midst of your stream and a new post surfaces at the top of the feed, thus making the current post you are looking at "jump" down the page. It is the digital equivalent of somebody moving a piece of paper you are reading out of your line of vision.
Google will eventually figure out the problems it has with the news feed. Yet, as we have seen with the evolution of the Facebook news feed, it is a tricky problem. It is a matter of balancing technology with user interface, chronology with relevance. Twitter has not even bothered trying to change its stream. It is chronological and if users want relevance they can create lists (which are also in chronological order).
Circles helps increase relevance in Plus but often times Circles become dormant if they are too refined. Either way, Circles does not address the basic updating of the stream within any one feed.
Facebook's Recent News Feed Changes
Facebook has made changes to the stream recently. It has started to group updates by topic in the feed and link them to pages. The topic groups are then fed into EdgeRank (Facebook's algorithm for determining what is on top of your feed by personal relevance) to produce what should be the most popular and interesting topics at the top of the stream.
While this is a positive development by Facebook, there are drawbacks. For instance, I live in Boston and have history as a professional sports reporter here. Hence, a lot of the people I am friends with and organizations I follow are sports related. The Yankees played the Red Sox last night, which is a big event in this town. Today, almost my entire first page my Facebook feed is dominated by Red Sox news and status updates, to the detriment of any personal updates made by actual friends. This is a problem.
If the reported filtering tool is real, then Facebook also realizes that this could be a problem. Inside Facebook describes it as a "subscriptions" option. It looks like users will be able to filter what types of updates they see from certain sources such as friends, brands or pages. This could considerably clean up the clutter produced by events (like a popular baseball game). The idea is to give users more control over the relevance and chronology in their streams. More control is almost always the best option for user experience.
The Difference In Streams: Facebook Has The Experience to Evolve
This is where Facebook has a big opportunity to differentiate itself from Google Plus. The news feed is the primary interface that users interact within inside each platform and Facebook's evolutions in the area could make it a wholly functional, customizable experience that outclasses Plus while Google is still figuring out what it wants to do with the stream.
We have contacted Facebook about the validity of Inside Facebook's report and what changes it has planned for the news feed and EdgeRank. We will update if and when they get back to us and it will also be a topic we pursue at f8, Facebook's developer conference, in San Francisco later this month.
What do you think? Do you like Facebook's recent changes to the news feed? Is a filtering tool desirable? Is it necessary? Let us know in the comments.