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Facebook did that thing that its users hate today: it changed. Ahead of the launch, the rumours suggested that the billion-strong social network’s new look News Feed would be more context-specific and involve larger photos and bigger ads. So, were they true?
Well… yes. With the critics doubting Facebook’s ability to retain user interest and stave off user fatigue, the team has gone for an increased amount of visual and personalised content to keep people hooked on the core page of Facebook. “News Feed is one of the most important services that we’ve built,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg, explaining how Facebook wants to make News Feed a “personalised newspaper”.
He said that since the end of 2011, they’ve noticed that 60% of the content in News Feed is photos — a huge increase from when Facebook started. “How we’re all sharing is changing, and the design of News Feed has to reflect this,” said Zuckerberg.
Design director Julie Zhuo explained how the current design isn’t making the most of the space on the page, saying the main part of the feed uses less than 40% of the screen real estate — the rest is “just clutter”. The team went about understanding what their users want to share and then designed the best container for it. So, what does that mean in practical terms?
Everything just got bigger
In a bid to be more visual and more immersive, everything from links to suggested friends and events got a make over which prioritises images and icons over boring old text. Bigger photos, bigger album previews, bigger link thumbnail images with longer summaries and publisher logos in the corner, more focus on video and lots of clean white space to make it all stand out.
Even simple things like check-ins have undergone a transformation — it’s no longer just a line of text stating that your friend tagged herself somewhere, it’s now a full-on preview of the relevant page and even an expanded map, offering more context and showing you exactly where she’s wandered off to.
Facebook has access to an insane amount of information about you: what bands you like, who you’re friends with, where you live, what articles you recommend, what videos you watch, what brands you follow and what types of post engage you the most. So it’s making more use of that information, by showing you more content that you would actually find useful — from packaged stories about the most shared articles from your favourite magazine to boxes filled with events in your areas that match your interests.
So, if you like an article about Taylor Swift once, be warned: Facebook could push more Swifty things at you in the days to come.
The jury’s out on if this new feature is more useful to the average user or just aiding efficient stalking, but Facebook’s new design allows you to filter your News Feed by content. If you only want to see your friends’ photos, you got it. More into investigating what music they’re listening to and spotting updates about your favourite artists? There’s an option for that too. If you miss the older chronological-style News Feed, you can bring it back.
Facebook has also taken brands into consideration, creating a ‘following’ tab which allows users just to see posts from public figures and business pages — in order. Seemingly in response to the persistent claims that brands are becoming victims of the News Feed algorithm and losing views on their posts, News Feed tech lead Chris Struhar stressed that his team specifically designed this feed to show in chronological order, “so that publishers know that their fans can see every single post that they make.”
The feed choice menu is sorted according to the frequency the user views them. So if a fan prefers seeing updates on music and games and doesn’t spend much time in the traditional assimilated News Feed any more, the new design will make these speciality filters appear in the top of users’ selection menus, making it easier to quickly pop over to the feeds they’re interested in. This will carry across to any mobile devices they log into too.
Consistent and mobile-driven
VP of Product, Chris Cox, said the new design is about “getting Facebook out of the way as much as possible”. Facebook focused on pulling back the unnecessary chrome surrounding the content, and ported over the simpler design demanded by smaller mobile screens. The result is a mobile-inspired look that is the same on different screens — a huge step up from Facebook’s current mobile apps, aspects of which don’t always resemble their desktop counterpart. The company said it worked hard to get the same look, functionality and feel on different devices.
The new look News Feed will begin rolling out today to select users on desktop, followed by phone and tablet apps — but eager early adopters can join the waiting list.
What about the bigger adverts, you ask? We’ll have to wait and see if they become more invasive or not — they haven’t featured in any of Facebook’s demos or mockups, but early hands on testing with the new look suggests they’re going to take up a huge chunk of screen space.