Three things Facebook can’t break with the news feed re-design

Over Christmas, a friend and I were discussing the multitude of social media options we face on a daily basis. We asked each other a question: Which social network would you be willing to delete today and would never miss?

Facebook (s fb) might seem like the obvious target for anyone threatening to quit a social service, and the site’s irritating qualities are more than well-documented. Ads for Budweiser are obnoxious, Spotify notifications are spammy, and figuring out the privacy settings can sometimes require a PhD. The company hides your updates in favor of ads (maybe?). People over-share.

But despite the naysayers, I do still keep a Facebook tab open on my browser throughout the day, and I’ve found that without my noticing, it provides a significant portion of my daily media diet. For me, it’s still far behind Twitter in terms of usefulness. But even with the service’s many flaws, it enjoys some advantages.

The company is set to announce a re-design of the news feed on Thursday, and while it would be easy to list all the things it should add or improve, instead, here are the three things the company should emphasize.

In other words: Zuck, don’t break these:

  • Content discovery: Facebook is still one of the best places to find the articles people are talking about and sharing that I might have missed at the time they were published. So many other news services and social products like Twitter are chronological, and in the speed of today’s digital world, it’s easy to miss things when they happen. I still look to Facebook to see the Buzzfeed story that’s trending (I think that’s how I learned what Harlem Shake was) or discover the local news item that’s outraging people. People criticize the black box of Facebook’s algorithm, and it surely has its flaws, but I’ve found that it’s still better than any news reader out there for surfacing things people are talking about.
  • Visual media: Despite Twitter’s efforts to integrate Vine, photo filters, and expanded tweets into its stream, Facebook remains the better platform for sharing anything with a visual component. As the Instagram purchase showed, Facebook’s sweet spot still lies with photos, and naturally stalking a friend’s photos remains a key element to the experience for most people. But even beyond that, the news feed is well-positioned to highlight content with photos, graphs, charts, or videos, and hopefully the re-design will take advantage of this element.
  • Contact directory: I’m not sure this is something Facebook could necessarily make or break with the newsfeed re-design, but in an informal survey of friends on what they like most about the service, they said Facebook is still the largest directory that most people have for their digital acquaintances. Allowing users to maintain this directory without cluttering the news feed with useless updates through functions like “hide from news feed” are a good start — the site should remain interesting, even if your Facebook friends aren’t.

I’ll be live-blogging Facebook’s announcement tomorrow from its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. starting at 10am PT.