You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Facebook puts friends above publishers in “News Feed Values” and ranking change

TechCrunch TechCrunch 29/06/2016 Josh Constine

After the conservative trends fiasco, Facebook is pushing itself to a new standard of transparency. The company is publishing a formal “News Feed Values” document that details how it decides what shows up in your feed — a common question amongst users.

Those core values are that friends and family come first, that the feed should inform and entertain, that Facebook is a platform for all ideas, that authentic communication beats spam, that you have the controls to hide or highlight what you want, and that Facebook will keep iterating to improve the experience.

Facebook is also making a feed ranking change today that literally puts its primary value that “Friends and family come first” into practice. The News Feed will now show posts from friends higher up in the feed than posts from Pages like news outlets. Pages should expect a decline in reach and referral traffic, especially if they rely on clicks directly to their posts rather than re-shares by their followers.

While the News Feed is ranked by a computer algorithm, Facebook’s Adam Mosseri explains “News Feed is a system that’s designed and built by people, those people have values, and those values are reflected in how we make decisions on a regular basis.” By publicly solidifying those values, users may gain faith that Facebook doesn’t have ulterior motives when deciding the best content to show them.

Human Feels, Algorithmic Ideals

Facebook chooses from between thousands of potential stories when building your News Feed each day. It could never show you everything. Even though people spend an average of 50 minutes a day across Facebook’s properties, there’s far more content than would fit.

In fact, choosing what appears is getting tougher over time since more users and publishers are joining the social network, and they’re sharing more content. The competition for space leads to an inevitable decrease in reach for any particular piece of content, stirring allegations that Facebook purposefully picks stories that will earn it money, or that it’s maliciously pushing Pages to pay for ads in order to get seen.

But in reality, Facebook’s goal first and foremost is to create a feed that keeps people satisfied — both quantitatively in terms of the volume of their engagement measured in clicks and times spent, but also qualitatively according to surveys it’s constantly serving to a sample of users.

Mosseri, who’s been working on Facebook’s News Feed for much of its near-10 year existence, sat down with reporters at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters last week to discuss how the feed works, and how the company’s values determine how it evolves.

You can listen to Mosseri’s whole talk below (my apologies for the typing sounds). You’ll hear questions from me as well as reporters from The New York Times, The Verge, Reuters, and The Wall Street Journal.

Values Put Into Practice

Here’s how each of the values Facebook lays out are put into practice.

FRIENDS AND FAMILY COME FIRST

Facebook was built on the idea of connecting people with their friends and family. That is still the driving principle of News Feed today. Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to — starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook. That’s why if it’s from your friends, it’s in your feed, period — you just have to scroll down. To help make sure you don’t miss the friends and family posts you are likely to care about, we put those posts toward the top of your News Feed. We learn from you and adapt over time. For example, if you tend to like photos from your sister, we’ll start putting her posts closer to the top of your feed so you won’t miss what she posted while you were away.

Our research has also shown us that, after friends and family, people have two other strong expectations when they come to News Feed:

Your feed should inform. People expect the stories in their feed to be meaningful to them — and we have learned over time that people value stories that they consider informative. Something that one person finds informative or interesting may be different from what another person finds informative or interesting — this could be a post about a current event, a story about your favorite celebrity, a piece of local news, or a recipe. We’re always working to better understand what is interesting and informative to you personally, so those stories appear higher up in your feed.

Your feed should entertain. We’ve also found that people enjoy their feeds as a source of entertainment. For some people, that’s following a celebrity or athlete; for others it’s watching Live videos and sharing funny photos with their friends. We work hard to try to understand and predict what posts on Facebook you find entertaining to make sure you don’t miss out on those.

The subtext here is that Facebook puts the benefit of its users above publishers, developers, advertisers, and even its own monetization. That’s because Facebook knows that if it doesn’t prioritize people, they won’t keep coming back. Without an audience, publishers can’t generate referral traffic, developers can’t gain app installs, ads don’t generate sales, and Facebook will wither.

Recently, the balance seemed to have shifted too far in favor of news publishers. Between the election cycle and big publishers learning how to create visually stimulating videos, the feed began to feel dominated by news outlets instead of everyday people, and now Facebook is evening things out.

What’s most interesting is that Facebook is clearly outlining how its goal to be a utility supersedes its desire to be a source of entertainment. Facebook wants to more than a slew of viral videos or memes.

A PLATFORM FOR ALL IDEAS

We are not in the business of picking which issues the world should read about. We are in the business of connecting people and ideas — and matching people with the stories they find most meaningful. Our integrity depends on being inclusive of all perspectives and view points, and using ranking to connect people with the stories and sources they find the most meaningful and engaging. We don’t favor specific kinds of sources — or ideas. Our aim is to deliver the types of stories we’ve gotten feedback that an individual person most wants to see. We do this not only because we believe it’s the right thing but also because it’s good for our business. When people see content they are interested in, they are more likely to spend time on News Feed and enjoy their experience. It’s important to note that while we welcome a multitude of viewpoints, we also believe strongly that people should feel – and be – safe when they use Facebook, and we therefore have Community Standards that define the behavior that we think is out-of-bounds on the platform. We think it’s possible to be inclusive without making Facebook a place where people are subjected to attacks, hate, or other harmful behavior.

Facebook is conveying that News Feed is a reflection of our interests, not some puppet master controlling them. Despite the allegations, Facebook believes that suppressing conservative trends or any other type of content would simply lead to an unsatisfying experience for those who want to see it.

AUTHENTIC COMMUNICATION

The strength of our community depends on authentic communication. The feedback we’ve gotten tells us that authentic stories are the ones that resonate most. That’s why we work hard to understand what type of stories and posts people consider genuine — so we can show more of them in News Feed. And we work to understand what kinds of stories people find misleading, sensational and spammy, to make sure people see those less. The strength of our community depends on authentic communication. The feedback we’ve gotten tells us that authentic stories are the ones that resonate most. That’s why we work hard to understand what type of stories and posts people consider genuine — so we can show more of them in News Feed. And we work to understand what kinds of stories people find misleading, sensational and spammy, to make sure people see those less.

Spam doesn’t work well on Facebook. People see right through the charade. The best way for people and publishers to reach a large audience is to post authentically, rather than trying to trick the audience into liking or clicking.

More from TechCrunch

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon