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When did Facebook become so boring? A quick history lesson.

Facebook’s News Feed is constantly updating with the latest stories from your network. But have you ever wondered how they get there?

With yet more changes announced this week I will be exploring in this blog post how Facebook’s algorithm has changed over time, and how knowledge of its inner workings can actually improve your own experience on Facebook.

The Facebook

Coming to Facebook much later than 2004, I was amazed that the original ‘Thefacebook’ had only 8 core features – and the News Feed wasn’t one of them! Back then it appears Facebook was not a lot more than a directory of names, contact information and interests.

It was only in September 2006 that Facebook introduced the first News Feed, and alongside that, the Mini Feed. Every time you logged into Facebook it would now bring you the latest updates, generated by the activity of your social groups and Facebook friends.

At the same time they added the ability to see updates on relationship changes, Pages joined, pictures uploaded, allowing users to keep up to date with not just the latest ‘news’ from their acquaintances, but what their friends and family were really up to (a not entirely welcomed move).

In November 2007, taking the lead from a former competitor, FriendFeed, Facebook introduced the Like button, and with that Facebook started experimenting with the use of an algorithm to identify the content we were most interested in seeing.

Added Control for Users

During 2009 Facebook introduced filters, allowing users to exercise more control over what they saw on the network. Along with this update they also included the ability to add multimedia content to status updates.

It was at this stage that Facebook debuted a new default, sorting order – they scrapped the pure, reverse chronological listing many were used to (newest update at the top), and replaced it with a News Feed that was based on popularity and engagement.

The algorithm now sat at the very heart of your experience on Facebook.

EdgeRank

Just a year on from there and Facebook begins using a mysterious new system for determining what you saw in your News Feed – ‘EdgeRank’.

EdgeRank was nothing more than an interesting, internal name for the amount of priority given to any post. It determined what you saw in your News Feed based on just three important factors:

1) Your Affinity with the source (how close you were to the person posting)
2) The amount of engagement with that type of post (likes, comments etc.)
3) How long ago it was posted

It took three years for Facebook to ditch EdgeRank as an internal term altogether, although the principles established still stand as part of a much wider set of indicators used today to determine what appears in your News Feed.

Now and in the future.

Today’s algorithm considers over 100,000 different factors to gauge the quality of any content posted, in order to determine if you will see it when you open your News Feed. Factors include the original three EdgeRank indicators, in addition to things like the device you are using, how long ago you logged in and your internet speed.

The latest announcement from Facebook came last week – it describes how the network will now use how much time you spend reading posts to provide a more accurate picture of your behaviour, with the aim remaining the same – to provide you with the content most likely to keep you engaged on the network.

So what does this all mean to you and I, the average Facebook user?

It means that when you stare at your News Feed in disbelief, wondering why your feed has become nothing more than baby pictures, shabby chic tables for sale, and the Lad Bible, you probably had more of a hand in that than you thought. Your choices on the network, then and now, directly affect what you see, and what you will see in the future.

The good news is, if you don’t like what you see, you can change it. How? I’ll tell you in my next post.

I hope you’ve found my post interesting, let me know what you think of Facebook’s News Feed in the comments.

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About the Author

I’m fascinated by how a company or organisation can change its fortunes and even undergo a transformation by looking at a challenge in a different way and by behaving in different ways.

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