A new Facebook document intended for brand advertisers reveals forthcoming redesign changes to its home page…. Most of the contents will be familiar to our readers, and the screenshots in the document are blurrier than what’s already out there, but it contains some interesting new details.
The big picture is that Facebook is coming out with a more nuanced new home page that may serve as a better central place for consuming information from the site and from the web.
First, the latest details
There will be some sort of “Top Stories” feature, as we heard in June. This way, as with prior Facebook redesigns, you will first see the most interesting recent items shared by your friends, via an algorithm determined by Facebook. To see the raw stream of information that Facebook introduced in the Twitter-like March redesign, you will have to click on a button called “recent activity.” Recent screenshots from live beta tests of the redesign have already confirmed this — and, actually, sources told us as much in June.
Also familiar: The March redesign added a “Highlights” section on the right-hand side of the home page, where it algorithmically displayed photos, events and other things that your friends commented, liked, or joined. Now, it will also be folded into “Top Stories.”
In other words, this new feature will include some algorithmically-generated relevancy calculation, looking at all sorts of data about an item, including the number of times it’s shared, commented, or liked. It will apparently work similar to how the pre-March news feed worked.
In addition, several types of activity stories that were lost with the March stream redesign will be added back to both the “top news” and “recent activity” views:
- friend acceptances
- event RSVPs
- group memberships
Facebook Page- related stories will also appear in the top-news and real-time views:
- friends becoming a fan of a Page
- event RSVPs
- virtual gifts
Finally, birthdays will now appear above the fold, as the previous screenshots showed. Because people buy each other virtual gifts in Facebook’s Gift Store, this location may bring Facebook more virtual goods revenue.
How will this affect advertisers?
Here’s how the company explains the answer in the document:
Now that the right column is less cluttered, the home page ad becomes more prominent. Facebook does not expect any change in brand impact or action rates associated with the ad in the new home page design.
What does Facebook have to say about how the changes will affect Pages?
The opportunity to acquire Fans increases with this new home page design. This is due to several reasons including the migration of Fan stories into the center stream, and the increase in “Suggestions” from one to two connections.
That last phrase apparently means that Facebook will make it easier for pages to get on to the “suggestions” part of the homepage.
Also, there’s no mention of third party apps — but this document is designed for brand advertisers, so maybe we’ll hear more about that somewhere else. The most we know right now is that the screenshots from the other week showed apps appearing within the top stories feed. It is not yet clear how apps will be affected by the change.
Another note on that point. None of the new screenshots show the toolbar at the bottom of the page — the one for apps, chat, etc.
Where will the news feed go from here?
Given that Facebook just bought FriendFeed, we also wonder how much of what FriendFeed has done well will somehow be factored into the new design. FriendFeed, which Facebook bought just a couple months ago, was building a lifestreaming service that basically offered an open and customizable feed service for consuming information sites around the web. While Facebook offers some importing from other sites, its feed mostly features items from its own apps (photos, events, etc.), as well as anything shared via third-party apps on its platform. In Facebook’s goal to make its news feed the central place for sharing information on the web, there are still unanswered questions.
Facebook is a more mature set of products than it was the last time it had an algorithmically-tuned feed. It has rolled out new services for Connect, like Connect for Mobile, which means more web sites and devices are sharing information back into Facebook. The March redesign, meanwhile, made friend lists a key part of the site.
How will Facebook promote Connect items within its new interface, now that there are so many more (we assume) Connect items coming from all the integrations out there? How will Facebook tune Top Stories for your friend lists? And, will Facebook somehow make it really easy to import information into the feed from other parts of the web? Right now, that feature is buried within users profile page settings.
Perhaps Facebook will offer more ways to manually tune top stories, like FriendFeed has? As TechCrunch details in an article about FriendFeed’s decline, titled “This Used to Be My Playground,” that service still does some things that Facebook doesn’t:
[Facebook is] still too slow to share, automatically imported items take forever to show up, the filtering system needs work (I want to be able to hide just a certain type of item from one friend, like I can on FriendFeed, rather than hiding everything), as does the relevance of the main stream.
So now we know a little more about the relevancy part. But the rest of the playground is still under construction. It looks like a fun place for advertisers. We don’t yet know how it will affect third-party apps, sites that use Connect, and other companies that might be hoping to get better access to the stream.
What we do know is that a lot of users hated the March redesign, and preferred the algorithmic view. If Top Stories and the rest of the redesign helps them use the site more — and more effectively — the change will presumably benefit the Facebook ecosystem.