Facebook Updates News Feed With Dedicated Feeds, Bigger Photos

Facebook rolled out an updated News Feed on Thursday, aiming to provide a "personalized newspaper" featuring updates both from friends and selected news sources.

The new News Feed will be slowly rolled out to users over the next few weeks. (To get it early, click this link to join the waiting list.)

Photos Take Prominence

The new News Feed look steals ideas from Facebook's mobile apps, which have focused on prominently showcasing photos. To that, Facebook has added a bevy of new feeds, or ways of displaying updates on your page. These include distinct feeds for music, photos, games, updates from "close friends," and those from people and Pages you follow.

Facebook also lifted the left-hand nav bar from its mobile application and added it to the Facebook desktop, so that people won't have to navigate back through the Facebook home page to move through the site.

"News Feed is one of the most important services that we've built," Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said at an event at its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. "It take all the things that your friends are doing and puts them all in one place."

Probably the most important updates that friends share within the News Feed are photos, Facebook executives said. Zuckerberg said that about half of the average News Feed consists of photos, which will be displayed in a larger format, along with albums. That, unfortunately, will now also include image-driven ads.

The larger photos will help eliminate some of the unusable space that dominates the page. Julie Zhuo, the director of design for Facebook, said that less than 40 percent of the current Facebook page is taken up by the News Feed design. "The rest, quite frankly, is clutter," she said.

Facebook's "Sports Pages"

One of the recurring themes of the Facebook presentation was that users should be encouraged and be able to look for specific subject-specific feeds — something the company has quietly done before, but always suppressed behind the main feed. It's the Facebook equivalent of a traditional newspaper's sections, which could include business or sports. Within the News Feed, these will be organized into topical feeds — with, presumably more to come. 

"We believe that the best personalized newspaper should drill into any topic that you want to discuss," Zuckerberg said. "And it should let you drill down into the one topic that you want."

Feeds showcasing Photos, Music, and the other content categories will be organized chronologically, in an attempt to push as much relevant material in front of Facebook users as possible. The Music feed will show what users are listening to on Spotify, what artist pages they like, and what concerts are playing nearby or in the near future. Facebook didn't go into what the Games feed would include, but presumably there will be frequent updates by apps from Zynga and its competitors.

Still, the main News Feed should retain the same mix of updates it always has, pushed by Facebook's Social Graph algorithms. Chris Cox, the director of product for Facebook, said that Facebook hadn't changed anything about its ranking algorithms for those updates.

Facebook has also come under fire for allegedly suppressing updates that wasn't promoted in the News Feed. Earlier this week, Nick Bilton of the New York Times essentially accused Facebook of encouraging a pay-to-play scheme. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban also said he had been encouraged to pay Facebook to increase the number of people who would see his posts.

Facebook denied the charges, saying its algorithms have made recent attempts to focus more on higher-quality stories, and that engagement was actually up for social media figures with more than 10,000 followers.