Hooked on the ‘now’: Facebook tries — and fails — to move users beyond recency

Is there no higher relevance than recency?

Facebook changed the way its popular NewsFeed works back in September to prioritize what it deemed important updates in the lives of friends. That let users see, say, a day-old post about a friend’s engagement before a link another friend posted just minutes ago, essentially demoting recent items in the world’s most popular social feed.

On Thursday, Facebook backtracked, announcing another News Feed update that allows users to sort their main feed either by important, “highlighted” stories, or by “recent” stories.

In other words, Facebook gambled that it could calculate relevance in a way that could beat out recency in the hearts of its users. And it was wrong.

My guess: Facebook’s most active, vocal users check the site more for its novelty than its news. We care about big events in our friends’ lives, of course, but we have other ways of learning them for our closest friends, and if posts about big events in our other friends’ lives are already a couple days old, crawling with hours-old comments from the more attentive, we feel like we’re late to the party.

On the real-time Web, the social party is always in the same place — “now.”

If Facebook can’t take it somewhere else, I wonder if anyone can.

  • Phillip T

    You should check out Intersect.com. They seem to be trying to capture/preserve the past, using timelines.

  • Phillip T

    You should check out Intersect.com. They seem to be trying to capture/preserve the past, using timelines.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      I worked for Intersect, so yes – very familiar with the (very cool) concept. Still I think we want to know what’s recent in a friend’s mind, even if that recent thought is about the past. With timelines, if we check in, we might still have be chiefly interested in what’s new on that timeline.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      I worked for Intersect, so yes – very familiar with the (very cool) concept. Still I think we want to know what’s recent in a friend’s mind, even if that recent thought is about the past. With timelines, if we check in, we might still have be chiefly interested in what’s new on that timeline.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      I worked for Intersect, so yes – very familiar with the (very cool) concept. Still I think we want to know what’s recent in a friend’s mind, even if that recent thought is about the past. With timelines, if we check in, we might still have be chiefly interested in what’s new on that timeline.

  • Phillip T

    You should check out Intersect.com. They seem to be trying to capture/preserve the past, using timelines.

  • http://twitter.com/bawbgale Bob Gale

    This seems like a classic Early Adopter vs Early Majority situation (in Crossing the Chasm-speak) — i.e. Early Adopter (such as yourself) must have the latest news and wants to be ahead of the pack to participate. The Early Majority is happy to hang back and let others bubble up the good stuff for them. The key question: Despite its apparent mainstream-ness, does FB really think this market has matured to the point that they should appeal to the Early Majority at the expense of the Early Adopter? This about-face suggests they tried but thought better of it.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      That’s an interesting reading of it, though I think many members of the early majority are already at the place where they get that dopamine rush from more and more new items in their feed and want the reward that comes from responding and reacting to posts that are still raw and recent. I’m an early adopter, but I actually prefer highlighted stories first, because I’m
      Interested in what Facebook defines as important, and have an early adopter’s interest in following that.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      That’s an interesting reading of it, though I think many members of the early majority are already at the place where they get that dopamine rush from more and more new items in their feed and want the reward that comes from responding and reacting to posts that are still raw and recent. I’m an early adopter, but I actually prefer highlighted stories first, because I’m
      Interested in what Facebook defines as important, and have an early adopter’s interest in following that.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      That’s an interesting reading of it, though I think many members of the early majority are already at the place where they get that dopamine rush from more and more new items in their feed and want the reward that comes from responding and reacting to posts that are still raw and recent. I’m an early adopter, but I actually prefer highlighted stories first, because I’m
      Interested in what Facebook defines as important, and have an early adopter’s interest in following that.

    • Anonymous

      I agree @twitter-14577209:disqus , except I don’t think FB would be appealing to the Early Majority “at the expense of” the Early Adopter.  This seeting seems like a good way for a user to put himself into one of the two camps.

      I know I can’t find the “good stuff” from the past few days because I can’t make it through all the breakfast posts and pictures of the sky.  But that’s just me.

      I hope they don’t kill the feature just because it isn’t taken on at the speed that is reserved for Early Adopter features!

  • http://twitter.com/bawbgale Bob Gale

    This seems like a classic Early Adopter vs Early Majority situation (in Crossing the Chasm-speak) — i.e. Early Adopter (such as yourself) must have the latest news and wants to be ahead of the pack to participate. The Early Majority is happy to hang back and let others bubble up the good stuff for them. The key question: Despite its apparent mainstream-ness, does FB really think this market has matured to the point that they should appeal to the Early Majority at the expense of the Early Adopter? This about-face suggests they tried but thought better of it.

  • David reeves

    What’s the default? If highlighted is still the default, I’m not sure I buy the idea that they ‘failed’ merely because they added another option.

  • http://ClaussConcept.com Jason Gerard Clauss

    The Timeline idea was one big mountain of hubris. Facebook somehow got it into their heads that people use their site as anything more than a communications tool. They were under the impression that users would share their entire lives with the website, forming some sort of emotional connection to Facebook. Zuckerberg, mother, giver of life and constant comforting presence. Pfft.

    It reaffirms my faith in humanity that this was not the case. It also gives me a charge to know how stupid the fanboys at TechCrunk must feel know (Google this: “Facebook just schooled the internet”).

  • http://ClaussConcept.com Jason Gerard Clauss

    The Timeline idea was one big mountain of hubris. Facebook somehow got it into their heads that people use their site as anything more than a communications tool. They were under the impression that users would share their entire lives with the website, forming some sort of emotional connection to Facebook. Zuckerberg, mother, giver of life and constant comforting presence. Pfft.

    It reaffirms my faith in humanity that this was not the case. It also gives me a charge to know how stupid the fanboys at TechCrunk must feel know (Google this: “Facebook just schooled the internet”).