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Facebook whipping out its crystal balls to ‘improve’ your feed

By on April 16, 2016

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Facebook is bringing more algorithms to bear to predict exactly what you’ll want to see in your News Feed, according to a post on its Newsroom site today.

The social-media platform has been tinkering for years with the processes that determine what actually makes it to your screen. But these latest “improvements” might prove even more restrictive and detrimental to publishers than the loss of the chronological feed, and they could inspire other services to make similar changes.

Here’s what Facebook is doing to your News Feed now.

“We’re learning that the time people choose to spend reading or watching content they clicked on from News Feed is an important signal that the story was interesting to them,” the post from software engineer Moshe Blank and research scientist Jie Xu says. “We are adding another factor to News Feed ranking so that we will now predict how long you spend looking at an article in the Facebook mobile browser or an Instant Article after you have clicked through from News Feed.”

That’s right: Facebook can now see the future.

The other change that’s coming is something that the article calls “Diversity of Page Posts,” but it means that the system will automatically keep you from seeing too many articles from the same source in your feed. And we’re not sure if this just applies to shared content or posts from actual accounts you follow like, say, the New York Times. Neither one really works in a publisher’s favor, really.

It’s Facebook’s party, and the company is at least ostensibly arranging posts based on its best feedback from users, but this still doesn’t sound like the best news for content producers. And we’re not just saying this as one of those publishers; when Facebook first eliminated the chronological feed and started prioritizing more popular post (i.e. ones with more comments and Likes), smaller publishers and businesses saw their audiences shrink. And that happened because Facebook was hiding “lesser” content that users had already said they wanted to see by following that page or friending these people.

These new tweaks seem to take the same bad idea further, and we wonder what will happen if other platforms follow Facebook’s lead. Twitter has already created a non-chronological option, and Instagram recently announced its own shift to an algorithm. And maybe it’s ridiculous to imagine that Instagram would hide pictures if the same account posted too many in a row, but we thought the same thing about non-chronological feed, and that’s happening.

Facebook says it has started rolling out these new features and says that “most Pages won’t see any significant changes. Some Pages might see a small increase in referral traffic, and some Pages might see minor decreases.”