Facebook on Thursday announced sweeping changes to the way it plans to manage the newsfeed, the front door to the service for its 2 billion monthly users. Under the new regime, Facebook says users will see more content from friends and family, and less from brands and publishers. The new algorithm also will favor content that draws a lot of comments over posts that are popular, but don’t elicit comments.
Fred Vogelstein sat down with Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s vice-president in charge of newsfeed, to discuss the changes and why Facebook thinks they are necessary. Edited excerpts follow:
FRED VOGELSTEIN: Tell me about the announcement.
ADAM MOSSERI: So what we’re talking about is a ranking change where we’re trying to focus or trying to look at how we might help—or use ranking to help people become closer together, connect people more. Newsfeed was founded—or Facebook was founded in a lot of ways—to connect people. So we want to see if we can do that better.
So what we’re going to try and do is better identify and value meaningful social interactions between people. We want newsfeed to be a place where people have conversations, where they connect with people. So we’re going to focus more on that, and less on how much time people spend on Facebook and on newsfeed, and less on even how much they share directly.
And so this will mean that a number of different things will happen, but content that generally gets—that facilitates or inspires more meaningful conversation or meaningful interactions between people will get more distribution, and content that does so less will get less distribution.
There will be more friend content and family content. There will also be more group content. Group content tends to inspire a lot of conversation. Communities on Facebook are becoming increasingly active and vibrant.
There will be less video. Video is an important part of the ecosystem. It’s been consistently growing. But it’s more passive in nature. There’s less conversation on videos, particularly public videos.
There will be less content directly from (professional) Pages. Page content will still be an important part of the ecosystem, but it will shift a little bit. Content that is shared and talked about between friends will grow, and content that’s directly consumed from Pages directly will shrink slightly.
FV: You guys tweak newsfeed all the time. This sounds like more than a tweak.
AM: So what we want to make sure is that anytime we make any major ranking change, we explain it proactively. But we make lots and lots of changes. Most of them are very small in nature with small effects, maybe they’re fixing a bug here, maybe it’s getting a little bit better at predicting shares there. But those we don’t talk about because they don’t have material effect. They add up over time, but we don’t want to inundate everybody with every small thing that we do.
And so this one is bigger than the average tweak. It’s not a tweak.
FV: The general perception of newsfeed is that popularity and buzz are very important, and that there are pros and cons associated with that. One of the cons, which obviously people have been talking about all year, is that people try to game the system, which tends to promote more extreme kinds of conversations. Is this a way of addressing that?
AM: This is primarily trying to help newsfeed deliver on its core promise of bringing people together, about connecting people with stories from their friends and family that matter to them. But also content that’s not from friends, right? You might have a really engaging conversation with someone who shares interests in a group, for instance.
But connecting people with each other is the value proposition on which our company was built in a lot of ways. So I do think that it’s consistent with what our values have been for a long time. But it’s really about creating more good—helping newsfeed become a place where there’s a vibrant, healthy amount of interaction and discussion. It’s less about reducing any sort of problematic content types, which is another area of work that we focus on intently.
FV: What are the specific things that you’re going to do to make all this happen?
AM: So one of the key things is understanding what types of interactions people find meaningful, what inspires them to interact more or share more in the future. Some of the specific things would be like we’re going to be (weighing) long comments more than short comments, because we find regularly that if you take the time to actually write a more thoughtful perspective on something that correlates positively with a comment that someone actually would respond to or Like. It also correlates negatively with problematic…