Facebook’s latest News Feed enlarges just about every image across the social network.

It’s an effect that isn’t just prettier; it emphasizes content over the users. And since you already know all of your friends, that makes sense. You really just want to see what they’re saying.

A clever piece of UI occurs when multiple friends share the same story independently. See those thumbnails on the left? Those allow you to scan multiple conversations occurring across your friend network. Facebook dips deeper into their data pool through tricks like this one.

And now, when someone becomes friends with someone else or likes a page, the feed provides a large preview of their timeline, rather than a tiny thumbnail.

This photo-forwardness combines with algorithmic curation, of course, when Facebook shares events or news articles, not one at a time, but three at a time.

And remember when news articles were just tiny thumbnails? Not any more. Now content is king.

Co.Design

News Feed Tries To Solve Facebook's Hardest Problem: Engagement

Facebook has a monetization problem. And they plan to solve it by first fixing their engagement problem.

Today, Facebook announced a redesigned News Feed--a radical makeover of their core product at the heart of their homepage. The big changes are easy to spot. The feed is now a unified design between desktops and mobiles, its images are bigger, and every bit of information is more personalized at the user’s end. But what you might not notice is that the stakes of the redesign are quite high.

This makeover is crucial for Facebook. While no one can deny the platform’s ubiquity, the company needs to formulate a secret sauce to balance monetization and engagement. (They need to make money without boring us too much in the process.) Because despite user accounts continuing to grow, engagement is down. No doubt, that may be related to the News Feed’s new sharing algorithms, which have come under scrutiny for allegedly putting your posts in front of fewer eyes…unless you pay to promote them. Facebook denies they’re hiding posts from anyone, but either way, whatever Facebook has done to date hasn’t worked.

From their latest update, it seems like Facebook has a tacit thesis: Fixing the engagement problem will fix the monetization problem, so let’s just make all content more engaging. Here’s how they’re doing it:

Bigger Images, Backed By Timeline Previews

The biggest update you’ll notice are the bigger images. As Facebook joked on stage, “They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, and today’s feed is more like 500.” Thanks to liberal text overlays, the photos have been enlarged, filling wasted nooks and crannies in the UI. But all of the smaller images are bigger, too. When you like a person or business, your friends will see a preview of that person or business’s timeline. When you share a story, that shared story now features a larger thumbnail than your avatar. And these changes makes sense. Your friends already know who you are--that’s not the engaging part. The engaging part is what you’re doing, saying, and sharing. So Facebook doubled down on all those elements with pretty pictures.

Increased Data Richness By Connecting Multiple Sources At Once

But alongside these larger images, Facebook found a few ways to actually squeeze in more data. The best example of this new phenomenon might be what happens when many of your friends independently share the same story. Now that piece of news shows up in your feed, and just to the left, all of your friends’ thumbnails are there, too. By highlighting each friend, you can see the conversation that’s taken place within their feed. So rather than keep up with a single thread on a single story, users can view conversations occurring through all of their social circles.

Similarly, check-ins used to be signified with text and a boring link. Now, check-ins will add a map to your post, along with thumbnail of wherever you’re visiting. This extra data is exactly the kind of attractive information that might lure a user in to learn more about a restaurant or music venue.

Clearly Labeled Feeds To Delve Into Interests

Of course, none of this would matter much if Facebook didn’t quell an increasingly valid argument of its users--that because of algorithmic curation, they didn’t have the ability to explore what they wanted to explore (you know, like their own friends and family). So Facebook added extremely specific feeds that operate somewhat like sections of a newspaper (their metaphor). One feed shows all of your friend’s posts in chronological order (just like Facebook used to). Another feed shows you just the images. Another shows just the music. Another shows the businesses and movie stars you follow. Through this redesign, Facebook let up on the reins a bit, giving human interest the chance to dig through content in a flexible way.

Enticing Big-Data-Curated Content

The only problem with these feeds becomes, how does Facebook leverage its big data to entice us to engage with the things we didn’t necessarily know we wanted to engage with? That’s an issue Facebook deals with, in part, through the data richness of multiple sources, mentioned above. Another tactic is sheer curation of news. Now, if you’re a fan of NPR, you won’t just see a single story in a feed that’s popular. You might see a collection of stories you’d be interested in reading, based upon the data Facebook’s collected on you and people like you. And this same curated presentation is also used in events that are coming up. (Of course, in sharing three stories at a time instead of just one, Facebook also increases their odds that they’ve spotted a story that’s right for you.)

From a pure design standpoint, there’s a lot to like in Facebook’s updates. You’ll notice less clutter, prettier pictures, and the option to home in on just the things you care about at any given moment. Plus, this facelift unifies the interface between desktop and mobile devices. But for a company like Facebook, a design makeover is particularly salient. They’re not just a data company; they’re a data curation company. All of the information in the world means nothing if users don’t want to interact with it. And it seems that Facebook is very much acknowledging that fact.

See the News Feed here.

Add New Comment

6 Comments

  • Arman Nobari

    Graph Search - just as their advertisements - is simply lexical in it's inquiries. It does not derive meaning from your words, just as the advertisements only pick up keywords/likes and do nothing to analyze the person.

    I paint every single day - I've never received an arts-based advertisement. But since I "Liked" Toyota on Facebook three years ago, I still get ads for a new Toyota (and Honda, and Lexus, Etc) every day. Instead of tailoring ads to "fans of your page" or those "interested in cars", perhaps specifically targeting "those engaged with automotives" would be a more successful design for these ads.That is not smart marketing. It is on the fringe of relevancy.

  • Philhood

    This company is a design disaster. I can't wait to see if this is worse than Timeline. Large photos are no help if your goal is to scan lots of info fast. Large photos help NatGeo, but not Facebook. 

    The truth is human beings don't really need help from Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. to negotiate their way with marketers. We know what marketers are, we even like some of them. We know the difference between ads and friends posts. When we say we want to follow Kanye West or the New Yorker we actually want to follow them, not have Facebook decide what is important and what isn't.

  • Irene Velveteen

    Amen on your first point. It's now impossible to search on a list of 200 friends. That's about 9 friends per screen on this now mammoth grid.

    Painful.

  • Howard Dinin

    Being a data company implies organization and maintenance of that data. That, in the digital world, is what curatorship means. It doesn't mean instilling a desire to interact with the data. The best curated art museum means nothing if the public has no interest in the art--I'm assuming that's where the analogy in the writer's mind comes from. That and the implication that Facebook has the responsibility for helping us market our own content, which is ridiculous. While I'm at it, in that first paragraph it says, "...new sharing algorithms, which have come under scrutiny for allegedly putting your posts in front of less eyes…" That should be "fewer eyes...," unless, of course, you don't particularly care about basic English. Does Fast Company actually have editors? 

  • Warren Anthony

    They need their advertisers to get smarter too. The blanket spam "Suggested Posts" makes few friends.