Hoping to tame the blizzard of information that has turned off many
users and discouraged some advertisers, Facebook on Thursday unveiled a
major makeover of the home page that greets users when they log into the
The new design of the Facebook News Feed presents bigger photos
and links, including for advertisements, and lets users see specialized
streams focused on topics like music and posts by close friends.
changes are designed to address the company's two most vital
challenges: how to hold on to users at a time of competing, specialized
social networks and how to draw more advertising dollars to please Wall
Mark Zuckerberg, the company's co-founder and chief
executive, said at a news conference that he wanted Facebook to be "the
best personalized newspaper in the world." And like a newspaper editor,
he wants the "front page" of Facebook to be more engaging - in
particular on the smaller screens of mobile devices.
topic-specific News Feeds could well persuade users to spend more time
scrolling through various streams of content. And the redesign will
offer bigger real estate for advertisers, including more opportunities
for brands to feature bigger pictures, which marketers say are more
persuasive than words.
Facebook's proprietary algorithms, which
try to guess what every user will want to see, will continue to filter
the items that show up on each person's main News Feed. And users will
be able to drill down into specific topics they are interested in, akin
to the sections of a newspaper.
For instance, they can switch over
to specialized feeds that are focused on just the music they are
interested in, or they can scroll through a feed that consists of posts
from the pages of products and people they follow - a bit like Twitter.
If they want to see everything that their friends have posted, they can
choose to do that, too; those posts will rush down in chronological
order, without any filtering by Facebook's robots.
introduced the new design to some users of the Web version of its
service Thursday and will extend it to all Web users and to mobile apps
in coming weeks.
It's unclear how users will react to the changes;
in the past, major design changes have often been greeted by
complaints, at least initially.
Investors seemed to welcome the
new look. Shares of Facebook rose 4.1 percent Tuesday, to $28.58. But
the company's stock price remains substantially lower than its $38
initial public offering price last May.
Facebook is clearly hoping
the new format will encourage users to stay longer on the site. At the
news conference to announce the changes, officials offered examples of
content they hoped would be compelling photos of a cousin's babies on
one area of the page, Justin Timberlake concert news on another, a list
of stories your friends liked on National Public Radio on still another.
best personalized newspaper should have a broad diversity of content,"
Zuckerberg said. "The most important stuff is going to be on the front
page," he went on. "Then people have a chance to dig in."
announcement met with swift praise from the advertising industry. In
addition to bigger ad formats, the redesign's specialized content
streams could keep users glued to the site longer, marketers said.
will result in more time spent overall on the Facebook News Feed - and
of course, increase engagement with content and ads," said Hussein
Fazal, chief executive of AdParlor, which buys advertisements on
Facebook on behalf of several brands.
suggested that there would be no immediate changes to the number of
advertisements that appear on the News Feed.
Julie Zhou, the
company's design chief, said only that ads would be more visual.
"Everything across the board is going to get this richer, more immersive
design," Zhou said.
The redesign is also a nod to the ubiquity of
mobile devices, which a majority of Facebook's 1 billion users
worldwide use to log into their accounts. Pictures will show up bigger
in the News Feed, and there will be larger images of maps and links to
articles. In that way, the new look is a nod to other social networks
that are seeing viral growth, like Pinterest, which is built around
The new News Feed emphasizes the importance of
photographs, which are one of Facebook's most underexploited assets.
Zuckerberg said half of all News Feed posts were pictures, compared with
about a quarter of all posts a year ago. Every day, 350 million
pictures are uploaded to Facebook by individual users and brands.
The new design is virtually identical on the desktop and on tablets and cellphones.
Sebastian, an analyst at Robert W. Baird, said the changes were
positive for the company. "We see this as more likely enhancing the
longer-term value of Facebook for both users and advertisers rather than
adding materially to financial performance in the very near term," he
Users weighed in on Twitter.
"Not sure if (AT)facebook
is merchandising our attention or Zuckerberg cares about our reading
habits," Daixin Neill-Quan, a self-described Boston University senior,
posted after the news.
Others pointed out that Flipboard, a
popular app, already offers a personalized newspaper in which users
choose the topics and publications they are interested in.
Vaidhyanathan, chairman of the media studies department at the
University of Virginia, said the redesign could help educate users as to
just how much Facebook's algorithms filter what they see on what they
think of as their social network.
"Users will at least be under
less of an illusion that what's happening on Facebook is merely a
function of what their friends are doing," he said. "Facebook is the
puppet master of our social network."
© 2013, The New York Times News Service