Breaking Down Facebook’s News Feed Makeover

Michael Teague  |

A flock of journalists and programmers were present on Thursday at Facebook's (FB) headquarters in Menlo Park, California to watch as CEO Mark Zuckerberg and company unveiled the new and highly anticipated changes to the world’s most populous social media site.

The broad outlines of what these changes would entail were more or less known before the event, with users’ news feeds being the central focus. By the time the doors opened, it was not much of a secret that the News Feed would feature larger and better-quality images, and that users would have the option to view News Feeds from the perspective of a number of different sub-themes: specific friends, music, shows, photos, product pages and other pages to which a given user subscribes like news sites, public personalities, and so on.

The company also announced that it was streamlining its look across all platforms to its mobile configuration.  Mobile is, after all, where the company currently gets over a quarter of its ad revenue, a percentage that will only increase over time.

But what is perhaps more interesting, if not telling about the company’s future trajectory, were some of the comments made by Zuckerberg.

As the conference opened, the young CEO stated that his company’s mission was “to make the world more open and connected”. He went on to posit the News Feed as the central element in attaining this goal, framing the social networking site as “the best personalized newspaper”.

The theme of a personalized newspaper came up more than once during his relatively brief address to those present. The News Feed was framed as crucial because of its ability to harness the dramatic changes in the nature of interpersonal communication that have resulted from the instantaneous and virtual aspects of the internet in general, and social media in particular.

Zuckerberg, of course, said this rather more succinctly: From the beginning our goal with news feed was different to any other social services…The types of stories that we tell when we communicate with a photo than with a text are completely different."  To support this thesis, he noted that visual content now makes up about 50 percent of the site’s news feeds.

Metaphor and theory aside, the emphasis on a “richer” visual experience will not only captivate users and enhance the range of options they have in communicating with one another, but should also please advertisers, and for the same reasons. And it is also possibly an attempt to compete with other online destinations that rely heavily on visual content to keep users enthralled as long as possible. The company already owns Instagram, but will also be improving the way it incorporates other applications such as the popular scrap-booking site Pinterest in such a way that users will not be as likely to leave the Facebook platform.

The company’s stock was up almost 4 percent Thursday after the event, with shares trading for as much as $25.89 at one point.  The new changes are set to be implemented slowly and gradually over the coming days and weeks.

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