Most people think of Facebook in similar ways: it’s a place to share photos of your kids, it’s a way to keep up with friends and family members, and it’s a place to share a funny, viral story or LOL cat picture you’ve stumbled upon on the Web.
But this is not how Facebook thinks of Facebook. In CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s mind, Facebook should be “the best personalized newspaper in the world.” He wants a design-and-content mix that plays up a wide array of “high-quality” stories and photos.
The gap between these two Facebooks — the one its managers want to see, and the one its users like using today — is starting to become visible. Earlier this year, Facebook users rejected a redesign that Zuckerberg announced with much fanfare. Now Facebook is adjusting its algorithms to emphasize content that it thinks readers should see, which will push down some of the stuff that’s currently popular.
Over the past two years, according to sources, Vice President of Product Chris Cox and Zuckerberg have been campaigning internally for a sort of “ideal” news feed: It would be part of your daily morning ritual, something that you’d open and scan much the same way you’d read a newspaper.
But what users are clicking on and sharing seems to be quite the opposite. Viral stories and photos produced by publishers like BuzzFeed and Upworthy, or appearing on hosting sites like Imgur or 9Gag, perform exceedingly well on Facebook, garnering tons of clicks and engagement.
The result of the news feed after all that sharing and virality? A sort of tabloidized version of Facebook, where “junk-food stories with LOLcat art” do insanely well and show up more often, as one insider said, while perhaps something like a more labor-intensive magazine feature — or even a decent news story — may surface less often in the feed.
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As for imagining the news feed of tomorrow, try to think of it in terms of what the company doesn’t want it to look like: “Chris and Mark absolutely do not want Facebook to be Tumblr,” one source said.