Yesterday, at an event at their Menlo Park headquarters, Facebook unveiled a radical redesign of their core product: the news feed. Unlike Graph Search or Gifts (two of the last big products that Facebook's unveiled), the news feed is not an "extra," if you will, in the film of Facebook. The news feed is the star of the Facebook experience. Sure, whenever Facebook announces a brand new product it's a big deal, but when Facebook announces changes to the most vital part of the user experience, it's a massive deal.
“Our mission is to make the world more open and connected,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Thursday's event. "[And] news feed is one of the most important services that we build.”
“Our goal…is give everyone in the world the best personalized newspaper."
Were you ready for a news feed refresh? What are your first impressions? Let us know in the comments.
The new Facebook news feed is "designed to reduce clutter and focus more on stories from the people you care about," says Facebook. "We've completely rebuilt each story to be much more vibrant and colorful and highlight the content that your friends are sharing. Photos, news articles, maps and events all look brighter and more beautiful."
And that's one of the main things that this news feed refresh is all about: an enhanced visual experience. Along with content-specific feeds that give users more freedom and mobile consistency, that makes up the three key points about the new news feed that Facebook hammered home on Thursday. Here's what you need to know about what's changing.
A More Visual User Experience
So, what's going to change for the average user? Quite a bit, actually - both in how it looks and how you actually navigate around the network.
First, the desktop look. It's cleaner, more visually stunning, and yes, it feels a bit more mobile-inspired. Everything is more photo-oriented, and those photos are given much more prominence inside the news feed. Photos that your friends post are huge, spanning all the way across the feed. Photo albums are also larger. Facebook says that they want to be able to make the story, as it appears in the news feed, more visually indicative of the experience. For instance, this story about a friend going to China gives a big, bold, photo-oriented snapshot of the trip:
And it's not just photos from friends that are more visual. It's shared articles, which feature larger images and more information like snippets and author & publication info:
And links that your friends share, which now feature profile cards on the left-hand side that show you exactly who has shared the same link. You can hover over each friend to see what they said about the link when they shared it:
Stories about your friends making new friends now feature snippets from Timelines:
Check-ins are also more visual with large map images, as is content from third-party sites like Pinterest. Overall, you're going to see a news feed that doesn't just highlight images, but is inundated with them. At Thursday's event, Zuckerberg said that nearly half of the news feed already consists of photos and other visual content - so this redesign is simply an expression of the evolving face of the feed.
New Ways to Navigate
As expected, the new Facebook news feed will also sport content-specific news feeds. You'll still have the classic news feed as the default, which will combine recent activity with "top posts." You'll also still have the opportunity to filter the feed by "most recent," which will show you everything from both friends and pages in chronological order.
Facebook's new, hyper-specific news feed options include "all friends," which shows a stream of all activity from friends (nothing from pages or people that are simply "followed"). There are also specific feeds for photos, music, games, groups, and more.
The old "pages feed" has a new name: "Following." It will unearth all the posts from pages and people that you follow (no friends).
In other words, Facebook is giving you more options for customizing your news feed experience.
Long story short, Facebook has given users a lot more choice in how they browse content on the site. And the prominent placement of the specific news feeds on the homepage nearly ensures that users are at least tempted to spend more time on the site. By delving into a specific content feeds like "music" or "photos," users can unearth posts from the deep, dark, cavernous void of Facebook content that's been cast aside by their ranking algorithms. When there's more to explore, people typically choose to explore it - at least that's Facebook's hope. And more people spending more time on the site means more chances to serve ads.
The third tenet of Facebook's news feed redesign is mobile consistency - meaning that your experience on the desktop, web, and apps across all platforms should feel fluid. As I mentioned before, the new Facebook desktop experience feels more mobile - at least more streamlined.
All of your Facebook extras, your events, messages, gifts, apps, and more, are now housed on the left-hand side inside cute little icons. Like mobile, this is accessible from anywhere you go on the desktop version. In fact, Facebook made a point at Thursday's event to say that "now you can get to any page on Facebook to any other page on Facebook without going to your homepage.”
Facebook chat has also been resigned to the left in the new news feed. Facebook said that the reason for this is to get more people to see it. Some desktop users simply didn't have the screen capabilities to see the chat information on the right-hand side.
Facebook's mobile experience for the new news feed is going to look and feel just like the desktop experience. That's the bottom line. With this refresh, Facebook is no longer allowing any light between the two. Your Facebook news feed is your Facebook news feed - it doesn't matter how you access it.
It seems that this is what Facebook means when they say "goodbye clutter," and that they want to get Facebook "out of the way" of the Facebook experience.
The Business of Business
So you know that with the new news feed, photos are both bigger and more prominent. You couldn't have thought that ads were going to stay the same, right?
Yes, ads in your news feed will be getting bigger.
“We’re taking all the content you see in the feed and making it more immersive. So that goes across the board for everything, including ads," said Facebook's Julie Zhuo.
As a marketer, this presents plenty of new opportunities. Promoted Posts, Sponsored Stories, and Page promotion ads almost have to be visually impressive in order to flow with the rest of the news feed. If marketers didn't see the advantage of developing striking, image-based ads before, this must surely be a wakeup call - that's the future of ads on Facebook.
If you operate a Facebook Page, there are both good and bad aspects of Facebook's news feed redesign. The good is that there's a new "following"-only news feed option, so users have the opportunity to browse an unadulterated stream of content from business and interest pages. And the option to browse this specific feed is given prime placement on the homepage. In light of the recent hullabaloo of page owners accusing Facebook of decreasing post visibility to promote their Promoted Posts product, this feed option should be welcomed with open arms.
But it's still just an option. And whether or not users choose to utilize that option remains to be seen.
Now for the bad: to compliment the "following" feed, there's also an "all friends" feed that weeds out all page posts. Bummer.
Overall, the more visual news feed can only help business pages. Remember the aforementioned Timeline snippets that pop up when a user's friend makes friends with another user? Well, that concept also applies to pages. When a user likes a new page, a visual snippet of that page's Timeline will appear in the news feed. This gives pages a chance to make a bold first impression, increasing the likelihood that a user will choose to visit or like the page on the spot.
Facebook Tells Developers to Prepare
Everything is larger and more visual in the new news feed, and app developers have to prepare for this as well.
Facebook is suggesting that developers begin to optimize for high-res feed stories (on both desktop and mobile):
In the new design, the things people share through apps are larger and more engaging in News Feed. We're also making it easier for people to access their game and music feeds, now accessible from the top right area. To take advantage of this new design, we encourage you to optimize for high-resolution feed stories on both web and mobile by providing 600X600 pixel images (minimum 200X200 px).
These images will be really important to game developers as Bookmarks will become more important in the news feed. Bookmarks are images that accompany a shared story about a game. The larger image size means may just be what it takes to convince new and returning players to check out your game.
"These ever-present bookmarks will also display the notification counter from the most recent game requests to help drive re-engagement with players," says Facebook.
So, there you go. Facebook has just unveiled the most dramatic redesign of its most important product in years. All that's left to know is the "when?"
Not soon, probably. At least for most of you. Facebook has said that this will be a slow, careful rollout so that they can get their ducks in a row. It's a big change to a big product, and they want to make sure it's right before handing it over to everyone in the world. This shouldn't really surprise anyone, considering they're currently doing the same sort of slow rollout with Graph Search.
There is one thing you can do, however, to improve your chances of getting the new news feed before your friends. You can go to facebook.com/about/newsfeed and join the waiting list. All you have to do it click a big, green button. You can't miss it.
From what you've seen, what do you think? Good for users? Good for businesses? Let us know in the comments.