How old do you feel now that Facebook’s News Feed is 10 years old?

9 Sep 20168 Shares

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Mark Zuckerberg (centre) surrounded by the team that built News Feed in 2006

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How were you using Facebook back in 2006? Most likely you were searching for friends’ profiles and poking them.

The Facebook News Feed was created in 2006 to bring order to the chaos.

Facebook redesigned the home page to show friends’ status updates and photos.

The company at that stage was just a two-year-old start-up, having been founded in 2004 in a dorm room at Harvard.

But, believe it or not, most users were furious when the News Feed was introduced. To the point that a group formed on Facebook to protest against News Feed was joined by more than 1m people.

Despite this, Facebook’s data showed that people were engaging with the platform even more and decided to stick with it.

‘It’s not a perfect system. Research shows that we all have psychological bias that makes us tune out information that doesn’t fit with our model of the world. It’s human nature to gravitate towards people who think like we do’
– MARK ZUCKERBERG

“10 and a half years ago when I sat down with Ruchi Sanghvi and Chris Cox to build what would eventually become News Feed, we didn’t know what we were doing,” Zuckerberg said.

“In fact, if we had any sense of what the undertaking ahead of us would turn into, we might not have moved forward. We might have slowed down or tried to find someone more experienced. But, in the end, I think our lack of experience worked in our favour.

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Zuckerberg’s News Feed in 2006

“I recall the press following the launch being shocked that we would sacrifice page views – the dominant metric for websites at the time – in pursuit of this new product. Before launch we hadn’t even had a single discussion about this fact. If we had been smarter we probably would have; after all, the company would certainly need more funding at some point. Instead, we were just focused on the problem people using our site had every day of keeping up with their friends.

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Zuckerberg’s home page today

“After months of work I recall being very excited to launch it. We had been using it internally and we were sure people were going to like it. Instead, we saw people joining groups calling for us to turn News Feed off en masse. But the irony was that they were finding out about those groups through News Feed.

“It was working. And it was just a first step towards a more connected future.”

The impact of News Feed

News Feed was revolutionary because it was the first feed-based window into the lives of your friends, family and the world around you.

It differentiated Facebook when it was the number-two social network in the world after MySpace and at a time when Bebo was still a hugely popular social platform.

News Feed was launched three years before the Like button came along in 2009. This year, Facebook added Reactions to the News Feed, once again giving people the ability to show emotion, such as whether they were happy, sad, angry, amused or thought-provoked.

News Feed has evolved in many ways to become one of the world’s number one video discovery locations, rivalling YouTube. This year has also seen the introduction of 360-degree videos.

Now that 80pc of Facebook users use their smartphones to access the network every day, the News Feed is the lynchpin of their experience. Facebook has designed the News Feed to work regardless of what mobile network you are on or what device you are using.

The world’s front page

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The Facebook News Feed on mobile is where most people around the world get their daily news

Facebook’s News Feed has become the front page of the world and in many ways it has united us as one global village.

For example, in 2015, more than 26m people changed their profile photos using a rainbow filter to show their support for the LGBTQ community. Likewise, following the 13 November attacks, many people changed their profile photos to stand with France.

At first, News Feed ordered stories as they went up but now it runs on sophisticated algorithms that rank personalised stories based on how relevant the engine believes them to be to you.

Facebook’s News Feed is in a constant state of flux and only last month the social network changed its algorithms to drown out ‘clickbait’ news stories from publishers. These stories usually offer less information on purpose to get users to click through, with lines like “what happens next will shock you”.

“One of the things we’re really proud of at Facebook is that, whatever your political views, you probably have some friends who are in the other camp,” Zuckerberg said in a post.

“You probably have some friends who practice different religions – or who come from different countries. In Europe, for example, the average person on Facebook has more than 50 friends from outside their own country.

“That means whatever TV station you might watch or whatever newspaper you might read, on Facebook you’re hearing from a broader set of people than you would have otherwise. Last year, the American Press Institute found that seven out of 10 millennials – the group that’s most likely to get their news online – said their social media feeds contained a mix of viewpoints similar to and different from their own. And three out of four said they investigated different opinions at least some of the time.

“It’s not a perfect system. Research shows that we all have psychological bias that makes us tune out information that doesn’t fit with our model of the world. “It’s human nature to gravitate towards people who think like we do. But even if the majority of our friends have opinions similar to our own, with News Feed we have easier access to more news sources than we did before.

“Still, we can help by doing a better job filtering out false information or clickbait. We’ve made some changes to the News Feed algorithm, and we’re constantly trying to get a better understanding of what our community finds valuable and what it doesn’t.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about how to make Facebook a place for all ideas. Some of what we’re up against is human nature – biases that existed long before the internet. But by giving people access to more information and helping promote diversity and a plurality of opinions, we can build stronger communities.”

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com