Facebook changes News Feed to favor time spent, publisher diversity

Once again, Facebook is changing how it organizes the News Feed.

Facebook announced a number of tweaks to the News Feed algorithm today. The social network is putting greater emphasis on engagement time, or how long people tend to spend on a given post.

While liking or commenting on a post is one indication that the social network uses to shuffle the News Feed, it’s not the full picture of what the user wants. People don’t typically like or comment on everything they read, after all, so moving forward Facebook will prioritize posts based on how long users spent on similar posts from the author or publisher in the past. To inform these tweaks, Facebook will rely on data it’s been collecting on how long people spend on Instant Articles or clicked through on its mobile browser.

“With this change, we can better understand which articles might be interesting to you based on how long you and others read them, so you’ll be more likely to see stories you’re interested in reading,” Facebook explained in a blog post.

In another change, Facebook said people are complaining that they see too many posts from the same publisher creating a boring experience. So, in order to combat 15 posts in a row from The Huffington Post, Facebook is reducing how often people see several posts in a row from the same source within the coming weeks.

Facebook claims that publishers won’t see any “significant changes,” adding that at most some will see a small increase or a minor decrease in traffic.  Publishers are already wary of Facebook’s algorithm, with some complaining that referral traffic has dipped 20 percent over the past months, so this tweak is unlikely to comfort them.

Julia Turner, editor in chief of Slate, called the tweaks great news for a publisher like Slate that’s focused on articles people want to spend time with, and said she’ll be watching to see what effect it has. “Every time they tweak it it reverberates the whole system,” she said. “The question is, how they will technically measure what attention and engagement means. One of the concerns is, are you privileging length over quality. Good content comes in all lengths and all sort of of mediums. I think they’re aware of conflating the two.”


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