There’s nothing quite like a clean slate — especially one that’s pre-populated with a generous helping of algorithmically generated spam.
Perhaps realizing that the News Feed has over the years morphed into a cluttered mess, Facebook has started testing an entirely new feed with a subset of its users.
After all, why have one feed when you can have two? Double the ad-serving pleasure, double the ad-revenue fun.
This new feed, identified by a rocket-ship logo, isn’t the same as your current stream of family-focused updates. Instead of pushing out every nut-bag conspiracy theory your former high school gym coach sees fit to share, it appears to exclusively focus on popular content tailored to your particular interests.
Notably, it is from Pages that you have not liked.
“We are always working to make sure people see the most relevant stories that they care about,” a Facebook spokesperson wrote to Mashable. “But sometimes people haven’t liked a Page they may be interested in. In order to help people find relevant stories that might not currently be in their News Feed, we are testing this separate feed.”
Facebook already drops recommended Pages and posts into your current Feed, but this new feature gives users a dedicated place to seek out new content — think the popular Search & Explore on Instagram — should they be so inclined.
“We show the popular stories that we consider to be most relevant to each person, which is based on the type of content you tend to engage with in your News Feed,” the spokesperson continued. “The types of popular content in this feed is based on the amount of likes, comments and shares it has on Facebook.”
Why is Facebook doing this, and why the rocket icon? The company has experimented with other types of feeds before — interest-based feeds back in 2015, for example — but the latest iteration feels different.
Could it be that the traditional feed has become, dare we say it, stale?
While Facebook itself can continue to grow with the addition of new users, the users themselves at some point likely max out the number of friends, family, and brands they “like.” Sure, liking a page here and dropping one there counts as engagement, but Facebook surely dreams of more growth than that.
Enter the second feed, accessed by a rocket blasting off to … what, exactly? Hot hot hot trending content? Early reports suggest the rocket feed focuses on local information, which could open up an opportunity for more location-specific advertisements, but until the feature rolls out more broadly we can’t be sure.
But now that we’ve had a taste, its introduction raises a larger question: Just where, before the rocket feed, did one go on Facebook to discover new non-friend/family content?
The company announced in the summer of 2016 that it was changing the News Feed to emphasize posts shared by friends and family over that of publishers. Maybe that change actually reduced the site’s utility in the eyes of some? If so, this might be Facebook’s attempt to walk things back.
Another possibility is that the rocket is an unexpected outgrowth of the social media giant’s Trending Topics PR disaster in 2016. The company was accused of biasing its Trending Topics section against conservative news, and as result got rid of the humans who curated it. As in so many cases these days, the job was then handed over to the machines. That didn’t go so well (think stories about a man doing unspeakable things with a McDonald’s sandwich), and the feature was updated yet again earlier this year.
With this new section individually curated to each user, it sure seems like Facebook is feeling more and more comfortable with its recommendation algorithms.
What comes next
Whether or not this feature will eventually roll out to all users is anyone’s guess. Facebook is known for testing all kinds of weird tweaks only to let them fall to the wayside, and the second News Feed could suffer a similar fate.
Either way, the rocket feed in some ways represents yet another instance of the Menlo Park behemoth borrowing from one of its competitors. But instead of Snapchat, from which Zuckerberg and company have sampled heavily, the second feed appears to be snatching a page out of Twitter’s book.
Twitter deemphasized its widely mocked Moments feature earlier this year, making it a subset of the newly unveiled Explore. This allowed the company to show users everything from trending topics to live video (and the remnants of Moments) in a single, dedicated space. Notably, this is different from the main Twitter feed in that it focuses on posts by publishers and people you don’t follow.
Perhaps, like with Moments, this second Facebook feed is destined for the dustbin of social media history. Perhaps not. Either way, many of Facebook’s users have been strapped in for the rocket ride — hoping the destination turns out to be something other than a spammy garbage pile.