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SAN FRANCISCO — For Will Cathcart, Facebook’s director of product management, social discovery boils down to one seemingly conflicting concept: relevancy.

“The original philosophy behind News Feed was showing people what their friends had posted,” Cathcart told BuzzFeed’s Matthew Lynley in a fireside chat at the Glimpse Social Discovery conference here today.

As brands entered Facebook’s user feeds, even more possible feed content became available, making it even more important for Facebook to start filtering what appears in each person’s feed. But these feeds also have to be personalized.

“The types of things that go into making it more sophisticated is finding more indicators of what makes things relevant,” Cathcart said.

During their talk, Cathcart and Lynley also discussed changes to Facebook over the years and the frequent refinements of Facebook’s algorithms. Through it all, the word “relevant” came up over and over again.

While it’s easy for Facebook to figure out that you want to see content from a friend you interact with very frequently, or that you like YouTube videos because you click on almost all of them, there are more complex criteria. Cathcart offered the example of old high school friends who no longer really communicate, but one would want to see the other’s post about having a baby. An old friend’s baby is relevant news.

The idea of social discovery is to find things you’re not looking for but would benefit from seeing. Facebook’s News Feed approach seems to be about cutting out clutter but also reading your mind.

Even on the topic of advertising, Cathcart conceded that it works best when it’s — you guessed it — relevant.

“One of the ways to think about advertising and the News Feed is that our job is to produce the most relevant things for each person,” said Cathcart.

In other words: Sure, make ads and pay us to distribute them, but people on Facebook will still only care and click if it matters to them.


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