New Facebook News Feed must reduce confusion
A NEW version of the Facebook News Feed will be unveiled in California this evening.
To the casual observer, it might seem as if Facebook is constantly revamping its News Feed, like a digital version of the painting of the Forth Bridge. No sooner has one new News Feed rolled out, then work begins on another.
In reality, major overhauls of the News Feed, like the one coming this evening, are not that regular - there are one or two each year. Still, Facebook seems to trial small changes all the time, without really telling anyone what's happening.
That combination of constant flux and poor communication - or sinister secrecy, depending on your opinion of Facebook - has created confusion about how the News Feed works and what it's for.
On the face of it, it's obvious what the News Feed is for: it's there to tell you what your friends have been up to. In reality, news from your friends is competing with updates from media organisations, such as newspapers and record labels, sports clubs, advertisers, app developers and all kinds of other organisations who would like to send you a message.
Confusion is bad. Teens are said to be drifting away from Facebook. Content providers are frustrated that their work isn't getting in front of enough eyeballs. And now that the company has floated, Facebook's investors are expecting a return.
In an earnings call with analysts in January, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder and chief executive, said that the company wanted the News Feed to be capable of displaying "more engaging ads".
Have you ever met a real person who has said "I'd really like to engage with an ad right now"? Me neither. Still, we shouldn't forget that ads are what keeps Facebook free and, more importantly, in existence, so if you want to use it then you have to accept that Facebook needs to please advertisers just as much, perhaps more, than it needs to please you.
There is lots of speculation about what Facebook will change this evening. Multiple News Feeds! Revamped ads! Greater transparency!
Whatever is announced is likely to be criticised by users because people hate change. Even when they're crying out for it, they usually hate it. Eventually though, they usually settle down and go back to using it just like before.
The real test of the new News Feed will not be the reactions tomorrow morning but how people, advertisers, developers and media companies are using the service in six months time. Can Facebook finally figure out a way to please all of the people, all of the time?