Just when you were starting to get used to the way Facebook shows your News Feed, it’s time for another shake-up. This time, the social media mogul is updating the feed to highlight links to sites it thinks you’ll spend more time looking at.
The biggest learning from its research, Facebook says, is that the actions people take on the platform liking, clicking, commenting or sharing a post don’t always tells the whole story of what is most meaningful to them.
For example, even though people are less likely to interact with articles about a serious current event or sad news from a friend, that isn’t necessarily an indication that Facebook users don’t want it in their News Feed. Not everything is likeable, or couth to comment on.
The update adds to the core signals Facebook uses to rank the feed, which include how much a viewer is interested in a content’s author, how the post is performing with other users, how strong the author’s past posts were, what type of content it is and how recently is was posted.
Spending some quality time
The biggest adjustment that is being rolled out today is based on the realization that the amount of time people spend reading or watching content they clicked on is a strong indicator for what types of content they like. Presumably, that is why my Facebook News Feed is now exclusively kitten videos and TechCrunch news.
So now when you click on a mobile link to an Instant Article or open a page in its internal browser window, Facebook will calculate how much time you spend there after the content stops loading, controlled for content length. Sites and articles where people spend more time will be shown higher and more frequently in the News Feed, while those they quickly ditch will be demoted.
This helps it continue to fight clickbait and gives a boost to high-quality content people can’t look away from.
Facebook is also promoting a diversity of Pages in your News Feed. It found people got miffed when they saw a bunch of posts by a single publisher clogging their feed. Now it will try to spread the love to posts by different Pages you Like.
“With this change, we can better understand which articles might be interesting to you based on how long you and others read them, so you’ll be more likely to see stories you’re interested in reading,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
The rollout of the new News Feed started recently, and will continue over the next few weeks; it will affect both your personal Facebook feed and that of any pages you have on the platform.
Facebook starts counting time spent when ranking links in people’s feedsFacebook will start counting time spent when considering which third-party links to put in people's mobile feeds and stop showing so many posts from the same pages.
The more time people spend on Facebook, the more money Facebook stands to make. So to make sure people are spending as much time as possible checking out the content in their Facebook feeds, Facebook is going to make time an even more important factor when deciding what links to put in people’s feeds. And it’s freshening up those feeds so that they don’t always show posts from the same old pages and start boring people.
First Facebook’s news-feed ranking algorithm will now guess at how long you’ll spend checking out an article on your phone when deciding which posts to put in your feed. Facebook’s algorithm already considers the amount of time people spending looking at the posts in their feeds, so now it’s extending that to the third-party pages that those posts may link to.
The change will apply to any third-party link that can be displayed in Facebook’s mobile in-app browser or as an Instant Article: New Yorker features, YouTube videos, Reddit threads, PodcastOne episodes, etc. But it will only factor in when you’re using Facebook’s mobile app because Facebook can only count time spent when you’re using Facebook’s browser. And it will only apply to organic posts, not ads.
The result of adding time spent as a ranking factor seems simple. The more time Facebook thinks people spend on a link, the more likely it is to show you that link. Quality content: 1. Clickbait: 0. Just like when Facebook started penalizing links that people clicked on and almost immediately clicked out of because the corresponding content didn’t deliver on the headline’s promise.
That simplicity could be a problem. Publishers, brands or anyone else with their own site could try to game Facebook’s latest algorithm factor. They could load their pages up with a bunch of ad-tech scripts so they take more time to load. Or they could bloat their articles with animated GIFs and unnecessary paragraphs to get people to stick around longer.
But Facebook has a couple measures in place to prevent sites from trying to take advantage of its time-spent ranking factor. Slow-loading pages won’t receive a boost because Facebook only counts time spent once a page has fully loaded. And Facebook will cap time spent at an undisclosed threshold so that the average Facebook news feed doesn’t start to resemble Longform’s home page. A Facebook spokesperson declined to say what exactly that maximum time-spent threshold is.
Factoring in the time people spend on a page isn’t the only change Facebook is making when deciding which links to show where in people’s feeds. The company is also cutting back how often it shows people “several posts in a row from the same source in their News Feed,” according to Facebook’s blog post published on Thursday announcing the two news feed changes. In other words, if you normally see a bunch of posts from BuzzFeed crowding the top of your Facebook feed, you might now only see one at first and won’t see the others until you scroll further down the feed. This way Facebook can make sure you’re getting more variety in your feed. Otherwise you might get bored by it and turn to Twitter or Snapchat to spice things up.