Facebook Offers Real-Time, Highlight Reel News Feed for the Homepage

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-10-24

Facebook Oct. 23 delivered the previously reported home page changes, offering users a highlight reel view of the most interesting activity that's happened in the last day and a real-time view that shows users what is happening now.

Facebook began offering the real-time feed in the home page in March. Now it has moved the Highlights section from the right-hand rail to the middle, so that users can toggle back and forth between the fun and the fresh at the click of a button. Facebook engineer Raylene Yung explained:

"News Feed picks stories that we think you'll enjoy based on a variety of factors including how many friends have liked and commented on it and how likely you are to interact with that story. Once you've caught up on what you missed, you can click through to "Live Feed" to see what's happening right now."

Users can edit what appears in the Live Feed view by clicking "Edit Options" at the bottom of the home page. Why is the News Feed view a highlight reel?

Facebook explained on its developer's blog that News Feed serves up popular content, determined by an algorithm based on interest in that story. The idea is to boost engagement, and thus, the likelihood that users will spend more time and see more advertising.

This move also takes on an interesting light in the wake of Microsoft's announcement at Web 2.0 Summit Oct. 21 that Bing would begin serving up public Facebook status updates. Facebook, hungry to capitalize on Twitter's success in providing up-to-the-minute information, clearly sees the real-time as the big time. 

Based on feedback from some of its 300 million users, Facebook also brought back features, such as when friends have been tagged in photos or have become fans of Pages, and when they RSVP for events, or join groups and make new friends.

Yung allowed that while it can be "disruptive when things are moved around," the social network put a lot of testing with small user groups and thought into the changes.

She's right about the disruptive part; many users are venting that they hate the changes at the I Automatically Hate The New Facebook Home Page group.

Does Facebook have a mini-revolt on its hands? It's tough to tell, as many users also complained about the addition of the real-time News Feed in March. People as a rule tend not to like changes in services with which they have become comfortable.

The question then is: Will people become comfortable before the cries of discontent force Facebook to return things to the way they were? Read more about the changes on TechMeme.

Meanwhile, Facebook also offered another less reported, but still interesting change that lets users crowdsource advice on how to navigate the vast, sometimes nebulous frontier that Facebook has become.

The Suggestions section in the right-hand corner of the homepage has been refreshed to let users help their friends, well, find their friends, or do other Facebookian tasks like upload pictures and video.

Facebook is also cleverly prodding users to help their friends become more active on the site, displaying a "progress bar" below their profile pictures on their profile. This could effectively guilt users into becoming more active, which will be good for Facebook, if embarrassed users don't revolt.   

"Facebook is only useful and relevant if you can connect with friends that matter to you, and so we already use this space to show you other people that you may know and want to share with," wrote Facebook product manager Naomi Gleit.

"Now you also will begin seeing new Suggestions about people with whom you are already friends, including those who are new to the site. For instance, we may suggest that you help a friend by suggesting friends for him if he's only connected with a few people so far."

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