Facebook loves fiddling with its News Feed algorithm. The company, now stocked with ex-Googler’s the search giant didn’t want, has always tried to tweak its news feed to get the engagement Google does with its ad products.
That engagement translates into easy billions for Google so naturally Facebook wants to do the same.
On Friday Facebook announced its latest change, in which the company will now scan the amount of time someone spends reading a given post on the site and app.
This means that posts that aren’t looked at by everyone will be shunned and pushed further down Facebook’s News Feed page.
The ad network characterized the latest change as a way of showing “the content that matters to you.”
Yet in reality this just translates to bumping the content that matters to Facebook’s real customers: advertisers.
Different stories matter to different people. Facebook has always been about mass lists of friends – its common for people to have over 1000 of their not-so closest friends on the service.
A photo of say, a new house you bought or a baby or something that happened at school, will likely only appeal to a very small subset of those friends. Your family will like baby photos and your classmates will like school photos but rarely will you post something that is liked by everyone.
Big corporations with savvy marketing departments, on the other hand, specialize in getting everyone to like their posts.
The net effect of the latest move, then, will be to make Facebook less personal and more of a source for viral news and corporate content, effectively turning it into a stream of bland, no offensive marketing content.
Or, as Facebook PR spinsters put it:
When talking to people about the way they use their News Feed, we’ve found that it’s not as simple as just measuring the number of seconds you spend on each story to understand if that piece of content resonated with you.
Some people may spend 10 seconds on a story because they really enjoy it, while others may spend 10 seconds on a story because they have a slow internet connection.
We’ve discovered that if people spend significantly more time on a particular story in News Feed than the majority of other stories they look at, this is a good sign that content was relevant to them.
The new system will also put greater focus on signals such as “likes” and “comments”, which in turn allow it to, surprise surprise, better target ads.
The moves highlight the reality of Facebook: Despite its deep Google envy, it will never be the clever and profitable tool that Google is, try as it might.