First look: New Facebook News Feed
8th Mar 2013 | 15:09
Much ado about nothing?
So Facebook's fiddled with its news feed again and this time it's all about simplifying your Facebook experience, it says. Not ads. Don't worry about the ads. You don't need to think about ads.
It's certainly a cleaner look than the last newsfeed iteration, and brings the web experience more in line with the iPad and iPhone apps.
Like Spotify's new Web Player, Facebook has concentrated on vertical columns to separate all its social bits and pieces.
The menu options are banished to a darkened column on the left hand side - it's a responsive design, so when screen space is at a premium it shrinks down to just icons, and expands out to full titles when there's more room to breathe.
The News Feed itself takes up the bulk of the main middle column while the right hand column plays host to some filtering options and, of course, some ads.
Although the News Feed is displayed by default every time you open Facebook, the column on the right gives you greater control over what you see.
You can choose to see updates from all friends (which seems to include friends you've hidden or requested only important updates from), updates from people and publications you follow but aren't friends with.
With the emphasis on pleasing visuals, it's no surprise that you can choose to see only photo stories by hitting Photos.
And with social gaming a good source of revenue for Facebook, another key tab is Games where you can spy on what games your pals are playing (no Farmville in mine, I'm happy to report).
The Music tab is pretty cool - not only does it serve up all the musical activity your friends are engaging in, from liking Beyonce to listening to stuff on Spotify, it also suggests artists you might want to 'Like' (based on friends' preferences and your own existing likes) as well as suggesting upcoming concerts that you might be into.
This suggested Likes thing is prevalent around the new design, and it's probably because Facebook wants you to like as much as possible so it can target ads more effectively at you - and make its Graph Search product a mite more useful.
Facebook tells us that this filtering menu will learn which options you go for most frequently and reorder itself accordingly.
The news ticker is relegated to a tiny corner of the site and it doesn't look as though you can increase the size of it which is a shame - although the general News Feed includes some of this activity, it's making stalking some of my friends a lot more difficult.
And this is an issue: as my esteemed colleague Gary Marshall points out, this brave new world does not provide a very sociable experience. This emphasis on visuals takes the attention away from the words you might use - so it makes us less inclined to post status updates, for instance, because a photo will look better and be seen more.
This is something Facebook loves - it doesn't want you to comment so much as Like - your friend's cat died? Like. Your aunt grows a whole new person in her tummy? Like. Funny sign? Like. It doesn't want you to share, it wants you to curate.
You want to communicate with people? Take it to the messages app. Take it to Facebook chat. But your news feed is now only for News with a capital N - and that's a real shame.
Even the Following view shows posts from pages you don't actually follow - I don't follow the NME, yet because two of my friends do, Facebook thinks it's okay to show me its updates:
Even Facebook Chat is kind of hidden away if you have it turned off - switch it on, and your available contacts zip into life in the left hand column.
There's been some outcry about the size of ads in the new News Feed - and yeah, they are bigger. But they have to be to fit with your bigger status updates and bigger photo posts and bigger shared links. We didn't see a massive amount of evidence of more sponsored posts, although Facebook did suggest this page to us:
I have no idea what The Croods are or why Facebook thinks I'd like them but it looks like something I'd cross the road to avoid being associated with so Facebook's algorithms may need a bit of work.
Facebook's new News Feed will have some up in arms because change is bad, and it will have others up in arms because ads are annoying and it will have others up in arms because some people just like getting pointlessly annoyed about things.
But give it a few months and we'll all have forgotten what the old News Feed looked like. And what Facebook has built is honestly a nicer environment to peruse: visually calmer and navigationally straightforward.
But it comes at a cost, and that cost is communication. You want to social network? You might be better off on Twitter.
Still, the changes will be great for hardcore 23-hour-a-day Facebook users who don't care about communicating so much as being seen, and will get plenty of use out of all the new filtering options. They're probably the people who'll use Graph Search.
But there are a lot of options we're not sure we'll use all that often because, honestly, the regular news feed ticks all the boxes for most casual Facebookers.