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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.

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