It seems that every major – or minor – update for the social networking website Facebook is met with a mixed reception. While plenty of users seem to accept new features with some enthusiasm, it seems that for many, substantial changes to Facebook are a chore to adapt to, and a valid reason to raise the rusty old pitchfork in protest.
Sadly, there are users who are still complaining about Facebook’s Timeline interface. For such people, it may be time to stop moaning about Timeline and seek professional help, because a significant new update is coming to Facebook’s interface, in the shape of a News Feed overhaul.
The first thing you will notice about the new News Feed is how aesthetically pleasing it is, allowing Facebook to have the clean intuitive look of a high-end interactive magazine. The News Feed revamp sports a new navigation bar on the left-hand side, where numerous icons, such as those for Facebook Messenger and friends are located. On the right-hand side are some exciting new tabs, some of which include options for Photos, Music, and Gaming.
In the centre, you have news items such as photographs, check-ins, and events, which are presented in a larger and more colourful manner than before, lending Facebook a fresher look. In fact, the new aesthetic is so vibrant that it almost pops out of the screen, making it apparent that Facebook has a new visual focus.
Facebook statistics have suggested that users are sharing more photographs than ever before, which is perhaps why the photo-sharing service Instagram has also been integrated more deeply into the new Facebook experience. At the press conference where chief executive Mark Zuckerberg unveiled the redesign for the News Feed, he said that the goal had been to "reduce clutter", and reshape the presentation of Facebook into a "personalised newspaper".
Speaking of which, the new News Feed will also provide users the capability to intuitively share news on the music that they are currently listening to, and the concerts which are on their horizon.
But by and large, the largest benefit of this more efficient News Feed presentation is that it will allow Facebook users to keep better track of their friends, so they don't miss out on stories that would have gotten lost under the pile of information.
It’s no secret that this continuously evolving social networking juggernaut aims to give its users more reasons than ever before to stay logged in. Already offering features such as the @facebook e-mail addresses, and the hugely popular Facebook messenger application for smartphones, the website is unmistakably trying to position itself as a one-stop platform for all internet communication. Not that it has a shortage of members, of course. To date, Facebook boasts a gargantuan active user base of one billion users. Yes, you read that correctly.
To help you understand the gravity of that statistic, the planet Earth’s population is estimated to be at a little over seven billion, while it is projected that in total, there are over two billion active internet users today. So basically, one out of every seven people on this planet has an account on Facebook, and one out of every two users on the internet, is a user on Facebook.
When servicing a clientele that enormous, the challenge for a business such as Facebook is not only attracting more users, but maintaining the ones they already have. Facebook earns its advertising revenue by the frequency with which its one billion users interact with the website. Of late, this revenue has gone up even further, after Facebook’s News Feed was modified to allow for paid promotions.
On the other hand, according to a study published by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, there is ‘considerable fluidity in the Facebook user population’. The analysis shows that 61 per cent of Facebook’s current user base has taken a temporary leave of absence from the website in the recent past, because a significant portion of this group didn’t find the content on the website to be relevant, nor to be compelling.
Interestingly enough, the News Feed revision announcement came soon after the Pew study. Perhaps there is no connection at all, but amid whispers of growing Facebook fatigue, and user annoyance with the News Feed itself, the time seems to have been ripe for a revision.
One of the strongly rumoured changes to the News Feed comes in the form of how it tackles advertised content, which may please many critics. A column from Nick Bilton of The New York Times went viral, after openly criticising the method with which Facebook was handling user engagement. The column from Bilton was suspicious of how the Facebook News Feed system suddenly decreased his level of engagement on the website, after Facebook began to offer opportunities for users to pay for their own promotion.
After Bilton saw a hefty dip on how many people were reading the stories he was sharing on Facebook, he tried an experiment, “I paid Facebook 7 US dollars to promote my column to my friends using the company’s sponsored advertising tool. To my surprise, I saw a 1,000 percent increase in the interaction on a link I posted, which had 130 likes and 30 reshares in just a few hours. It seems as if Facebook is not only promoting my links on news feeds when I pay for them, but also possibly suppressing the ones I do not pay for.”
Bilton’s next column reported that after reading his piece, other journalists and bloggers e-mailed him with similar complaints. But these complaints weren’t limited to members of the media alone, “…over the weekend my Inbox filled up with dozens of e-mails from people who owned small businesses and said they had also been [negatively] affected by Facebook’s news feed changes.”
Undoubtedly, this News Feed update is the most dramatic change Facebook has offered in years, and could very well lead to users putting more hours into the website. But it remains to be seen how effectively Facebook’s News Feed update will address these growing concerns; rumours are that the News Feed will offer tools for users looking to customise the content that appears more readily on their News Feed. And while it is understandable that Facebook is attempting to generate revenue through the News Feed system, one hopes that they try to find a balance, lest the rusty old pitchforks come out again.