Today Facebook announced an update to its news feed ranking that emphasizes shared news posts over memes and similar airy material that's often shared on the social network.
Facebook’s push to incorporate more news into timelines could be a response to Twitter’s success as a news platform. According to Pew Research, Facebook still has some catching up to do—only 47 percent of Facebook’s total users get their news on the site, compared to 52 percent of users on Twitter.
Goodbye, Grumpy Cat
Facebook says people prefer “high quality content” over popular memes, so the company is putting an emphasis on tracking how frequently articles are clicked on from news feed on mobile to deliver more relevant posts.
“We’ll be doing a better job of distinguishing between a high quality article on a website versus a meme photo hosted somewhere other than Facebook,” the company said in a blog post.
It’s unclear how exactly Facebook will define news, and how publications like UpWorthy and BuzzFeed, two media sites known for their viral videos, listcicles and GIFs, will be affected. While Facebook does provide a vague definition of “high quality content,” it’s a subjective explanation that might not satisfy everyone.
The move represents Facebook's latest push to eliminate “low quality” posts from users’ news feeds. In August, the company announced a similar algorithm update to encourage the managers of Facebook pages to post less junky material and to provide users with better-targeted updates.
Not all users will be thrilled with eradicating memes. In fact, many Facebook pages are entirely meme-based and garner millions of likes.
Facebook And Twitter Go Head-To-Head
In the fight to own your news reading, Twitter and Facebook are in a death match.
With the today’s update, Facebook users will start to see suggested articles directly beneath news feed posts that are similar to the ones they have already read—an attempt to play catch-up to features Twitter released months ago.
Facebook also wants to promote conversation on its platform, so it will occasionally resurface news stories that have new comments from friends—an addition similar to Twitter’s “conversations” feature that tracks @-replies with thin blue lines.
But Facebook’s recent news feed updates are just the latest in a stream of changes that mirror some of the most popular features on Twitter. You may remember recently seeing hashtags and trending topics on Facebook, and embedded posts across the Web. The company is sending data trends to a variety of media companies and encouraging them to post more stories to the social network.
Not Just About Friends
For all that, only four percent of U.S. adults consider Facebook their most important news source.
And by putting an increased focus on news consumption, Facebook risks deemphasizing the experience many of its users originally signed up for—that of staying connected to friends. While you’ll still see updates from those friends, your news feed might just become a little more serious with actual news leading your timeline.
Lead image by imjustcreative on Flickr