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Originally published March 7, 2013 at 4:56 PM | Page modified March 8, 2013 at 9:35 AM

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Facebook says new controls will tailor news just for you

In an attempt to breathe new life into Facebook’s News Feed, the company will introduce controls that allow people to sort streams of photos and other material into organized sections.

The Associated Press

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MENLO PARK, Calif. — Facebook has redesigned its social network to address complaints that the News Feed on its website has turned into a jumble of monotonous musings and random photos.

In an attempt to breathe new life into Facebook’s News Feed, the company will introduce controls that allow people to sort streams of photos and other material into organized sections.

With the makeover unveiled Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hopes to turn the News Feed into something more like a newspaper tailored to the particular interests of each of the social network’s more than 1 billion worldwide users.

Previous tweaks to the News Feed have triggered howls of protest from users. Hoping to minimize the grousing this time around, Facebook intends to roll out the changes in phases. It will probably be six months to a year before everyone who accesses Facebook on a personal computer sees the revamped News Feed, the company said.

The face-lift is likely to be more jarring for those who only visit Facebook on a PC because it incorporates some features already deployed in the social network’s mobile applications for smartphones and tablet computers.

The new features will enable users to choose streams of content that may feature nothing but photos or posts from their closest friends, family members or favorite businesses. Or they will be able to peruse content about music, or sports, as if they were grabbing a section of a newspaper.

Other newspaperlike changes will include lists of events that users’ social circles have flagged for the upcoming weekend and other summaries meant to resemble a table of contents.

By adding more personal touches, Facebook is acknowledging the computer-generated formulas it has been using to determine the content shown to each user have become less effective as the social circles within its network have widened to include a more diverse array of information.

“This gives people more power to dig deeper into the topics they care about,” Zuckerberg said while discussing the makeover at Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif. headquarters.

Facebook still intends to rely on algorithms to select some material to feature on the main part of the News Feed, much like newspaper editors determine what goes on the front page.

More space on the News Feed’s front page and other sections space will be devoted to pictures and video. These visual elements have become dominant features on Facebook because smartphones and tablet computers are equipped with high-quality cameras that make it easier to share snapshots and clips.

About 50 percent of the posts on News Feed include a photo or video, up from 25 percent in late 2011, Zuckerberg said.

The changes to News Feed are meant to make Facebook a more fun place to hang out and to avoid becoming an Internet has-been like other once trendy social networks such as Friendster and MySpace.

A phenomenon, known as “Facebook Fatigue,” was recently documented in a report from Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. The study found about 61 percent of Facebook users had taken a hiatus for reasons that range from boredom to too much irrelevant information to giving it up for Lent.

That’s a worrisome trend for Facebook, which needs to ensure its audience keeps coming back so it can learn more about their interests and, ultimately, sell more of the advertising that brings in most of the company’s revenue.

“I don’t think it had turned into a crisis, but Facebook was probably seeing some internal data that was telling them they needed to do something,” said Greg Sterling, a senior analyst for Opus Research.

Wall Street seems to think the redesigned News Feed might be a step in the right direction. Facebook’s stock gained $1.13, or
4.4 percent, to close at $28.58 Thursday, still nearly 25 percent below its IPO price of $38.

The mobile-friendly redesign of News Feed underscores the company’s intensifying focus on smartphones and tablet computers as more of its users rely on those devices to interact on the social network.

About 23 percent, or $306 million, of Facebook’s advertising revenue came from the mobile market during the final three months of last year.

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