Facebook Gives Users More Control Over Their News Feeds
A perennial complaint from Facebook users is that they don’t have much control over what appears in their news feed, the main flow of posts on their Facebook home page or app screen. The social network’s mysterious computer algorithm analyzes thousands of signals, then spits out what it thinks you want to see based on the kinds of posts you have liked in the past and who you tend to interact with or ignore on the service.
On Thursday, Facebook announced a set of features that will give each person more control over what he or she wants to see. In essence, you get to reprogram the algorithm.
The most important new control allows you to tell Facebook that certain friends and pages — your spouse, your best friend, your child’s school, or hey, your favorite New York-based news organization — are so important to you that you want to see everything that they post. Facebook will then put those posts at the top of your feed.
“It’s really for the things you care about most,” said Adam Mosseri, the Facebook product management director who oversees the news feed. One of his colleagues, for example, loves Humans of New Yorkand has put that page on his “see first” list.
To help figure out who to put on the “see first” list, Facebook will now also offer a screen that shows you the top people, pages and groups that you visited over the last week. “We show you all of your friends, but we’ve ordered them by how much you like and comment on them in news feed,” Mr. Mosseri said.
As important as choosing what you want to see is picking what you do not want to see.
For a while, Facebook has offered the option to “unfollow” your friends or favorite pages, which hides those posts from your feed. Now the site will let you pull up a single list of everyone you have unfollowed and allow you to start following them again with a single click if you choose. That makes it easier to mute, say, a friend who is sharing too many cat pictures or posting spoilers from “True Detective” and then quickly undo the ban later.
Finally, in case you regularly run out of things to see in your feed, Facebook has added another feature that suggests pages you might want to start following based on your other interests and allows you to quickly add them to your feed.
This isn’t going to be a top feature for many people — the typical Facebook user has about 1,500 posts waiting in the queue when he or she logs on. But Mr. Mosseri said that some people did actually plow through everything and wanted more. “They are very hungry,” he said.
Initially, only users of the iPhone or iPad versions of Facebook are getting full access to these new controls, but the company said the “see first” control is available across all platforms. The full set will be coming out soon for Android and the web.
Facebook has also chosen not to make the controls directly available from posts in the news feed. So you can’t just click on someone’s name on a post and add them to your top friends list. Mr. Mosseri, whose job includes keeping the news feed as simple as possible, said that Facebook decided it didn’t want to add another button to posts.
Instead, you have to click on a “More” button near the bottom of the screen, open the settings menu, then pull up news feed preferences.
Still, it’s a step towards more control, and it’s less clunky than Facebook’s previous attempts to get people to go through their entire friends list and sort them into buckets like “close friends” or “acquaintances.”
Businesses on Facebook, which complain that very few of their fans actually see their posts in the news feed, will also get the chance to persuade those fans to add them to the “see first” list so they don’t miss a thing.
Mr. Mosseri said Facebook introduced the controls in Spain first to test them out. “We didn’t promote it very heavily and it’s organically growing on its own,” he said.
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