• 08.06.13

How Facebook Plans To Make Its News Feed A Little More Like Twitter

A small update Facebook is planning for its ranking algorithm makes News Feed a better place to post live play-by-plays.

How Facebook Plans To Make Its News Feed A Little More Like Twitter

There’s a reason you don’t see many live play-by-play updates on Facebook. Unlike Twitter, where they’re rampant, Facebook sorts users’ News Feeds by relevance, not by chronology–which means that if you were to post each play of a football game, your friends might only see the touchdowns.


But that could soon change. At a press event to discuss changes to Facebook’s News Feed ranking system on Tuesday, Lars Backstrom, the engineer manager in charge of the tool, said the social network is working on a way to identify these type of updates so that it can present them on News Feeds in the order they were posted, yet another attempt by the social network to incorporate some of Twitter’s functionality.

Posting play-by-play updates on Facebook, Backstrom said, “admittedly isn’t super common, but it does happen sometimes.”

Facilitating it, however, could potentially open up new avenues for advertising. Because so many people tweet details about the television shows they are watching, for instance, Twitter can actually target the ads they see based on the television commercials they just saw.

Facebook has previously tested showing all updates in chronological order, but saw the number of stories people read and the likes and comments they made decrease. Instead, it’s now working on a way to pinpoint just the instances when friends are posting multiple, time-sensitive updates on the same subject. In tests, an early version of the “chronological by actor” update also decreased engagement, and so it was not launched. “We need to do a better job distinguishing a chronological [by actor] case,” Backstrom said.

Keeping clusters of updates about the same event in chronological order is not the only newly announced ranking factor focused on making Facebook more relevant moment to moment. Another update Facebook revealed on Tuesday, which has already been launched, looks at users’ most recent 50 interactions with other users to help determine who is most relevant to them that particular day.

Facebook VP of Product Chris Cox rejected the suggestion that Facebook was creeping into Twitter territory (the company has previously adopted hashtags and verified accounts from the microblogging service), noting that post age has been a factor in Facebook’s ranking algorithm since the beginning. “Twitter and Facebook are different in terms of product focus,” he said. “Twitter has built an entire system around not ranking and doing everything chronologically.”

[Image: Flickr user RebelNation1947]

About the author

Sarah Kessler is a senior writer at Fast Company, where she writes about the on-demand/gig/sharing "economies" and the future of work.