Underlying this question is the conviction that the News Feed shouldn’t just entertain users, but that it should entertain them against replacement. That is, it should provide significantly more meaning and entertainment than an average piece of entertainment. (In the U.S., that means it should be more fun than, say, watching an episode of NCIS.) I’ve heard this notion in conversations with other Facebook corporate leaders; it’s sabermetrics as editorial vision, deployed at scale worldwide, and it shapes how they think about one of their most important products. It’s also, I think, a convenient out for them, a way of handling the editorial burden of having the most popular app in the world.
Mosseri’s post is something else, too: a warning to news outlets. Many journalists have interpreted it as the final notification from Facebook that the News Feed algorithm will no longer emphasize news content, as it has since late 2013. For online publishers who have invested on the back of Facebook’s incredible audience gains, this is deeply worrying. (And everyone has invested on the back of these gains, to some degree, as the Facebook-triggered traffic inflation of the last few years which has in turn distorted the online advertising market.)
We’ll see whether those anxieties pan out. (The relevant changes may have already taken effect: News traffic from Facebook has been declining for months.) But in the meantime, I wanted to spend some time reading Facebook’s News Feed Values in the manner they purport to be written. Mosseri and his team claim to have created a set of unique, data-driven editorial ethics. They seem to govern one of the most powerful media companies in the world. They deserve our scrutiny.
So what does Facebook value? And more importantly, what aren’t they thinking about?
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News Feed Values
By Adam Mosseri, VP, Product Management, News Feed
Our success is built on getting people the stories that matter to them most. If you could look through thousands of stories every day and choose the 10 that were most important to you, which would they be? The answer should be your News Feed. It is subjective, personal, and unique—and defines the spirit of what we hope to achieve.
Here is the core conceit of News Feed: A piece of software can reasonably approximate someone’s subjectivity and uniqueness, and guess what stories they will find most important. These guesses should be more than just reasonable, in fact. They should be the most relevant stories possible.
It feels almost tedious to say this, but this whole idea assumes that meaningfulness is something like an inherent, preexistent quantity, resident in words, photos, and friendships. To Facebook, meaningfulness doesn’t emerge unexpectedly from actions or connections—or, if it does, that’s not the kind of meaning that the company is interested in. Meaningfulness is stock, not flow. It’s a measurable commodity, with sources and origins that are ultimately predictable; the same kinds of people and posts will provide meaning over time.
FRIENDS AND FAMILY COME FIRST
Facebook was built on the idea of connecting people with their friends and family. That is still the driving principle of News Feed today. Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to — starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook.
Here is the big (and widely reported) news in Mosseri’s post: that Facebook will now promote posts from users’ friends and family above all other kinds of content.