Facebook’s News Feed has undergone its most drastic change since its inception way back in 2006. Apparently, it’s all in the name of creating consistency and eliminating clutter. But are Zuckerberg et al’s intentions pure? Or is there (maybe, just maybe) something else influencing the decision to redesign?
Facebook got hot
Facebook is no longer the dorky girl with thick-rimmed glasses you avoided in high school. Indeed, the new-and-improved News Feed is actually kind of taking people’s breath away as it descends the staircase, dolled up and ready for prom.
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And while that metaphor might be strained, the changes to your News Feed means your eyes won’t be.
One of the most obvious – and visually appealing – things about the new-look feed is the move away from small, hard-to-see thumbnails towards larger and more engaging photos (it’s definitely not the first time a social media website has made the move to a more design-focused layout, though).
And it’s not just the happy snaps from your trip to the Big Banana that benefit from the soon-to-be-implemented changes. Links to articles, videos and other content are all given similar treatment, with associated images and summary content being enlarged and given a fresh sprinkling of magic design dust.
In a promo video for the new changes, one of Facebook’s employees says switching to the new feed is like “going from a little Trinitron 20-centimeter [sic] TV to buying a widescreen”.
Ironically, it was the small screen that inspired the changes in the first place.
From little things big things grow
When Zuckerberg announced the redesign last week, he explained that more people are accessing their Facebook accounts from mobile devices than desktops. This isn’t surprising, but it is important (especially when it comes to money, but I’ll get to that later).
Facebook is attempting to unify users’ experience across all of their devices in the same way that Apple’s OSX Lion borrowed key elements from its iOS software. Facebook is taking what’s worked on mobile and applying it to the desktop experience.
Facebook’s new News Feed design attempts to unify user experience across all devices
Filters aren’t just for Instagram
Not only have Facebook improved the look of the News Feed, they’ve recognised a key aspect of how people use Facebook to consume content, and introduced a nifty new feature in response. Scrolling through the rough to get to the diamonds in your feed will be a thing of the past thanks to the introduction of multiple feed options.
You can filter the content that appears on your feed by selecting from a bunch of options including photos, music, brands (that you follow) and groups. You can also choose the simple – but welcome addition – chronological news feed.
Blurring the line between ads and content
The same Facebook designer that gave us the delightful Trinitron analogy says he hopes the changes are going to be “something that most people don’t really notice” thanks to being “too busy enjoying the stories that their friends have shared with them”.
While I’m sure his intentions are nothing but pure, one thing he neglected to mention was the way advertisements will be handled on the redesigned feed.
The last big change to the News Feed was the introduction of Sponsored Posts into the stream of content. Advertisements that used to live exclusively in the sidebar to the right of your feed began popping up among posts and photos from friends. At first glance these ads can often be mistaken for something other than promotional material.
With the changes to Facebook’s News Feed, ads will now be even more engaging (and look even more like content from your friends). A Facebook rep told Mashable that “Sponsored Posts will appear in-stream in the new News Feed just as they do in the current version, only ‘richer/bigger'”.
In one way this is great news for marketers, with the emphasis on visual content giving them a greater canvas upon which to paint their content and deliver their message. However, many would argue that they already had that for free in terms of posts from fan pages, until Facebook started to suppress them in favour of sponsored posts.
Time to take up arms?
Whether this is a moral grey area or not is beside the point. But it is worth noting that these updates are just the latest response to the pressure on Facebook to monetise rapidly following its IPO back in May 2012; whilst also highlighting the bloody battle raging in the mobile arena between Facebook, Google and every other company that wants a slice of the irresistible mobile marketing pie.
Don’t freak out: no one’s going demand you click on their ads at sword-point – although you never know, if brands do this right you might actually want to click on their ads. All that’s changed is that the average user needs to be more discerning when it comes to consuming content from the News Feed, and marketers need to be more engaging when producing their ads. Everything is essentially the same; it just looks a whole lot nicer.
(The new-look feed will presumably be rolled out to everyone shortly, but if you’re a serial early adopter you can sign up to get the new feed first here. Just watch out for those ads.)
Richard Parker is the head of digital at strategic content agency Edge, where he has experience working with leading brands including Woolworths, St George and Foxtel. He previously spent 12 years in the UK, first at Story Worldwide then as the co-owner and strategic director of marketing agency Better Things.