It’s no secret that Facebook is changing what appears in your feed dramatically. Whereas memes used to rule supreme—making basically anything shared by George Takei go viral—Facebook has reweighted its algorithms to recognize higher quality stories and showcase more news to its users. And publishers, Fast Company included, have seen meaningful gains in Facebook referrals because of it.
Now, Co.Design has learned that Facebook is actually taking its dedication to news a step further by building the traditional feel of newspapers into the design itself. Facebook appears to be experimenting* with a serif font for news headlines—a long-time favorite of the newspaper industry for body copy. Now that might not look like a huge shift to the average person, but it’s a jarring change to any typography nerd, given that web companies have traditionally preferred the smoother lines of sans-serif fonts (think Helvetica) to the ornamental edges found in serif fonts (think Times New Roman).
When reached for comment, a Facebook spokesperson responded, "This is a small design test we are currently running. We are constantly testing new features across the site and have nothing more to share at this time."
Indeed, it’s common for Facebook to A/B test all sorts of design updates across their user base, and it’s perfectly likely that for most of us, a serif-laden Facebook feed will never see the light of day. But a conspiracy theorist might see things differently.
Over the past few months, publishers have begun to enjoy the perks of greater prominence in the newsfeed. Soon, our ad departments will begin selling in anticipation of that traffic boost, leading us to rely on Facebook more than ever for both our baseline and growth strategy. And when we do, Facebook will be waiting for social media-addicted publishers, with comforting old media-friendly serif fonts, prepared to not just share our stories, but host them as a mega news hub, too. It's not hard to imagine a fastcompany.facebook.com in which the engagement publishers could create on Facebook was a revenue and promotional stream too enticing to ignore.
But even if that's all just crazy talk, this design test is a rare peek into Facebook’s psyche, suggesting that their new commitment to news isn't going anywhere soon. Because the only way Facebook could look more like the old media would be to rework their logo in Gothic and print your feed on parchment.
*Also notable are more prominent ads and a share button that’s been changed to the more universal arrow.