Late last week Facebook posted the video of their f8 News Feed Session:

You can see Facebook's post here.

I don't know how long the video will be up, so here are a few relevant points and screenshots, along with some thoughts.

The Session

Chris Cox kicked things off:

This quest we're on [is] to make News Feed something that delivers to you all of the things that truly matter to you in a day and none of the stuff that you think is lame or boring, or isn't important to you. And that means moving from things that look at what you like and comment and click on as the primary way we evaluate what people care about to something that is more human in the way we assess what truly matters to people.

One of the recurring themes of this session is that Facebook's primary goal is improving user experience. The news industry's opinions of Facebook as a distribution partner range from skeptical to outright hostile.

Gawker Media, to speak our own book for a second, certainly has a vested interest in this. The percentage of our visits that come from a social network is between 25% and 37% for our sites, and the lion's share of that is from Facebook. We have a healthy dose of respect for how important Facebook, and in particular their News Feed algorithm, is to the business.

Next up to talk was Adam Mosseri, Director of Product:

The question is 'How do we try to ... figure out what matters to you'? At a high level there's three major buckets. The first is your relationship with the author of the post. So my sister ... I tend to interact with her stuff a lot. And over time News Feed notices that and starts to show her stuff higher up in News Feed. The second bucket is the type of content. I'm very photo-heavy, I interact with photos a lot and as a result a lot of my News Feed is photos ... And lastly is the post activity. Imagine there are two posts from the New York Times, one has thousands of likes and comments and the other only has a dozen. We're going to infer that the former is more relevant than the latter.

Adam actually put up an image to show a sample of how this relevance calculation is done.

It's no surprise that Facebook ranks whose posts you care about: a few years ago if you were tricky you could see how they ranked your friends. And we're all conditioned to think 'likes' lead to more exposure at this point.

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It's not really surprising that content type is important, but I was a little surprised to see the focus on 'links' as a content type. A paranoid-type might interpret this as Facebook penalizing content that takes people off their page. Such a paranoid person might notice that the lowest ranking piece in this (made-up!) example is the link to a brand page.

But in fairness, it's unclear from this part of the presentation what 'works' to get posts more exposure: right now we're talking about features for their machine learning algo, not what it's trained to optimize for. Fortunately, the last speaker, Lars Backstrom, was there to cover that:

Over the last year or so, we've built up this large group of people, contractors, who ... go through all the stories that would appear in their News Feed ... and rate all of them. And these are people from broad walks of life, we're trying to get a representative sample .... And the main thing that they do is tell us 'How much do they want to see each of those stories in their News Feed'?

Lars put up a slide that showed how their contractors (Amazon Turkers?) are quantifying this data: a 1-5 scale for the items that appear on their feed.

Some of the reasons for this new system, as Lars explains, are to address clickbait and overly promotional posts. And there's a separate path for reporting hoaxes. That sounds good! Again, only a paranoid person would focus on the fact that these examples of negative content probably (mostly? always?) include links off Facebook. Regardless, most of this has already been announced on the News Feed blog, so no real game-changers here.

Best Practices

The last five minutes were devoted to best practices, and they're pretty vanilla. Have a voice! Provide context (ie: write something, don't just put a link)! Be the first to press!

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In fairness, all of the examples here are of links as well: Facebook knows their audience here and know people care about traffic, not just engagement.

One question that I imagine Facebook gets asked all the time is about posting frequency. Lars says: post more! (did you think he would say post less?)

Takeaways

I had no idea Facebook was having people manually rank links. For that alone, the session was a good use of my time.

While there was some corporate-speak, I thought there were a few useful tidbits:

  • If being first-to-publish on Facebook has value (and it looks like it does) post scheduling probably will have negative value. We use SocialFlow to manage our accounts, and while they offer scheduling functionality, maybe posting immediately to the page will work better. This is hard to test but is worth looking into.
  • Also, the 'post more than you think' advice had the ring of truth to it, as far as I'm concerned. Since Facebook is theoretically trying to personalize feeds for readers, it makes sense to give them more to work with.

Any other suggestions or thoughts, please drop them in the comments.