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MENLO PARK, Calif. — Don’t be sad, Facebook users: People really are reading your posts. As long as you’re not boring, that is.
Last month, a Buzzfeed writer generated a minor Internet poo-storm by insinuating that no one actually sees your Facebook posts.
In response, Facebook held a small news conference today at its headquarters to explain exactly how News Feed works and how Facebook decides who sees your posts, and to announce two new News Feed features called Story Bump and Last Actor.
“We’re coming up on the seven-year anniversary of News Feed,” said Facebook product VP Chris Cox.
Engineering manager for News Feed ranking Lars Backstrom noted, “If you think back to the history of News Feed, there wasn’t a lot of content, and people weren’t nearly as active as they are today. You didn’t need to be super sophisticated about how you showed people their feed. … The average person today has 1,500 stories they could potentially see.”
To organize that activity, Cox said, Facebook had to start “looking at [updates] and reproducing them in terms of patterns,” aggregating updates and events in a way that was interesting and relevant to individuals.
“We’re in the service of the person having the most engaging experience every single time they come back,” said Cox.
Previously, Facebook used a system called Edge Rank, which Cox said has been retired. With the filters and experiments running today, he said, the signals Facebook uses to organize your feed include the people you interact with, what you like, and the kinds of stories you interact with most.
As Backstrom explained, each news story gets a score based on all those factors. To compute each story’s score, Facebook looks at signals such as relationships, the number of comments a story has, the number of likes, and the type of content (e.g., if you interact with photos more than text updates, photos get a higher score).
Also, time-sensitive content like events and birthdays get a much lower score once the date has passed.
Higher-scored stories get moved up on your news feed.
“It’s a very personalized thing,” said Backstrom of how the scoring algorithm works in practice. “Basically, if we make the feed more relevant, people will engage with it more.”
There’s also a chronological priority; stories that are new since you last visited get top billing, even if their scores are lower than stories you’ve already seen. This is the new Story Bump feature.
For example, the stories you see at 9 a.m. and read get sorted further down when you check back in at 11 a.m. and have a bunch of new stories to read. If there’s a story posted at 9 a.m. that you haven’t read, it gets sorted by score with the 11 a.m. posts.
With the Story Bump internal tests, Backstrom said, the company saw a 57 to 70 percent increase in the number of stories read, an 8 percent bump in interactions with stories from Pages, and a 5 percent increase in the number of interactions with stories from friends.
Story Bump is live now on the web and coming soon to mobile.
Last Actor & Chronological by Actor
Last Actor is another new feature that “captures your current state of mind,” said Backstrom. While scoring signals consider long-term factors such as friendships, Last Actor takes into consideration the most recent factors from your Facebook activity.
For example, if you interact with Alice’s post at 8 a.m., Facebook might show you more of Alice’s posts later in the day and give Alice’s stories a slightly higher score than before.
Backstrom said this led to a 1 to 2 percent bump in the number of interactions with posts.
Last Actor is live on mobile and web.
An upcoming feature that isn’t yet ready for launch is Chronological by Actor, which gives a higher score to the most recent stories from your friends. E.g., Bob’s 1 p.m. post on the Lakers game will show up higher than his 2 p.m. post on the Laker’s game. Backstrom said this will “make things a little more comprehensible.”
Play-by-play cases versus unrelated story cases have been difficult to determine algorithmically, said Backstrom — and in the case of unrelated stories, Chronological by Actor doesn’t work for end users, which is why isn’t not ready yet for a general roll-out.
Ultimately, to address the point of the Buzzfeed blog post, as long as you’re posting the kind of content your friends want to see — not FarmVille updates, not friendships with random strangers, not irrelevant text — your friends will see and interact with your posts. If you’re relevant and interesting to your friends, they’ll interact with you.
Moral of the story (and generally good life lesson): Don’t be boring.
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