Summary: By now you should be accustomed to one thing when it comes to social media – change. Whenever you get used to the way your Twitter page or Google+ profile works, they come along and pull the rug out from under you. At this point, these overhauls are to be expected – gotta stay fresh! Well, soon it’s Facebook’s (latest) turn. They announced last Thursday that in the coming weeks they’ll be rolling out significant changes to our News Feeds. Facebook intends to create a user experience that is similar across all device types (PCs and mobile), with larger images and of course ads. The social media giant hopes the change fosters increased usage and better engagement with ads as they come up on their first anniversary as a public company.
Early last week, rumors began to swirl about major News Feed changes coming soon to Facebook, with an announcement expected at a press event last Thursday. As it turned out, the rumors were accurate, however many users were probably disappointed to learn that the only development was the “announcement” itself – not the actual roll-out of the new News Feed. That apparently won’t happen for several more weeks. In the meantime, Facebook is allowing you to click a “Join Waiting List” button on their official announcement page, although as Mashable notes, FB is being tight-lipped about exactly when the full release will be made public:
Just how long you’ll have to wait, however, isn’t quite certain. Facebook said at its big unveiling press event Thursday that the new look will begin rolling out to users that same day. So some lucky folks will be exploring the new features before bed tonight, while others will have to wait a bit longer. We’ve asked Facebook for a ballpark range, but so far haven’t gotten a response.
Here are some highlights from CEO Mark Zuckerberg at last Thursday’s official unveiling (via ABC news):
Basically Facebook is attempting to create the same user experience on the web as on smartphones and tablets. The goal is similar to that of responsive design - a streamlined experience across all devices. Soon, regardless of whether you’re on your PC or a mobile device, you’ll see a wider News Feed takes up a larger portion of the screen and you’ll have a whole host of new filtering options that FB promises will allow you to display only the updates you want to see. CBS News has a lengthier piece on the overhaul that was apparently a year in the works:
The piece quotes FB Product Marketing Manager on the motivation for these changes:
“The number one thing that people said they wanted to see was a News Feed that was less cluttered,” said Leibrock. “The clutter was this feeling that there was all this different type of news mixed together.”
I can’t argue with the second point necessarily (things being mixed together), but I’m not sure “cluttered” is an accurate way to describe the current News Feed because you can already hide anything you don’t want to see. for example, you can “like” your favorite restaurant’s page and choose to not actually see their updates. Calling the Facebook News Feed “cluttered” is like me signing up for Localvore, DealChicken and Living Social and then complaining that my inbox is full of spam. I have the option to easily unsubscribe to any of these services, just as any Facebook user can hide posts from people/businesses they “Like” or unfriend/unlike all together. If anything is “cluttered” about the News Feed it’s FB defaulting to (what it thinks are) “Top Stories” sort order (instead of “Most Recent”) or ads that aren’t relevant to the user.
So what’s really behind these changes? Well, what motives any (smart) business, especially one that saw their stock price cut in half shortly after their IPO? Revenue. Facebook went public last May and has struggled over the last 10 months to not only generate ad revenue but prove to investors that they have a plan to increase revenues over the long-term. They’ve certainly crawled back from their lows, but the future remains uncertain. With larger, visual ads in an environment more similar to users experience on mobile devices, Zuckerberg hopes to brighten their outlook with the new News Feed:
Facebook claims that the average user spends 22 minutes on the site each day. One of the primary goals of the new look is to entice people to stick around longer. With some billion Facebook members, your business has a significant opportunity to engage that audience.
At the press event, Zuckerberg also revealed that 50 percent of the content in the Facebook News Feed comprises photos and videos. Put simply, Facebook users like to view and share photos and videos, so focus on developing engaging, high-quality pictures and videos for your business.
Facebook has had much more success with mobile advertising than it has from desktop platforms, so it’s no coincidence that the new layout, coming to mobile devices over future weeks, brings many elements from the mobile layout into the desktop browser. On top of providing a consistent look and feel for Facebook across platforms, the shift makes Facebook ads more prominent. If you choose to invest money to market on Facebook, the updated News Feed should help you get a greater return.
I’m not sure I’d take stock tips from PCWorld so take that last line with a grain of salt, but the broader excerpt gets to the heart of what’s really going on here. In the interest of balance, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also quote FB design director Julie Zhou in this Guardian piece, who denies this is a revenue play:
Speaking after the launch event on Thursday night, Zhou denied the revamped news feed was designed mainly with advertising in mind.
“A lot of the reasons we are doing this stem from users and the feedback that we got – that was the primary goal – going public didn’t affect that,” she said.
“Where we thought about design, we heard that users want to see photos bigger, more streamlined, and all those different types of story types getting richer. If brands are posting then we also want to make sure it gets the same representation that another user gets.”
Suuuuure. Don’t get me wrong, Facebook is and should be in business to make money and make shareholders happy, but let’s not be naive here – especially when Zuckerberg is quoted in that same article essentially saying this is largely about ad revenues.
So, how does all of this impact the average Facebook user? Well, it doesn’t at all until the full roll-out. That’s when we’ll all get a look at the new layout and opinions will be formed. Assuming keeping the traditional, unfiltered News Feed remains an option (and screenshots indicate it will), I predict that little other than the layout will change for a sizable majority of users. I doubt it will have any significant effect on how users behave, other than maybe increased engagement with larger ads that take up most of the screen, but that obviously remains to be seen as well. Assuming my prediction about how users will react is even remotely accurate, I’m personally in the Gizmodo camp on all of this:
Now, some handful of fairly major revamps later, it seems like standard fare. Sure, a new interface might take some getting used to, but it’s inevitable and hell, maybe it’s changing for the better. This latest refresh is quite the update, and you can bet it won’t be the last either. Have you gotten used to periodic changes? Do just not complain as loudly anymore? Or is it that the rise of other social networks have shown that maybe sometimes there’s room for improvement on the Facebook-front?
Maybe working for a web firm and getting burned by Facebook API changes so many times has me numb to it, but this latest FB update seems less a sea change and more a semi-significant design tweak, and for once probably a positive one. By the way, am I the only one who sees 2013 shaping up to be the year of the giant image? You’ll recall that last Wednesday, a day before Facebook’s announcement, Google+ released an unannounced major update to the user’s profile pages, including a dramatic increase in cover image dimensions. Side note: Does anyone else suspect that was a PR stunt by Google – an attempt to make news by breaking everyone’s page on the eve of the Facebook announcement everyone was waiting for. Why else make such an unexplainable move without any warning and just by coincidence the day before FB breaks news?