Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook (s fb) is the place to connect people from around the world, but right now, my Facebook News Feed feels more like a place to connect me with things to buy.
The News Feed is getting junkier and more ad-filled by the day. Sure, Facebook needs to make money, and its advertising business plays a dominant role in that growth. But recent changes on the platform like the News Feed re-design, as well as the explosion of Facebook’s advertising business to include things like re-targeted ads from my browsing history, are making the site a much different place to visit than it was a few years ago.
A new kind of News Feed
Let’s take a look at how the News Feed has changed in recent years. Here’s a view from 2011, not that long ago:
And here’s a sample from today:
Sure, the 2011 version was pretty cluttered, but because there were so many updates on the page, chances were good that most of them came from real people. In the 2013 view, if you hit the page at a certain moment, it’s not uncommon to see a page where a single ad dominates the view.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled the new News Feed in March, and the basic idea was to make it a more interesing place to find news, and to highlight beautiful photos of your friends. But this development has two sides to it.
Yes, photos look nicer and larger, but so do ads. Depending on your browser size, you can end up with one story dominating the whole feed. So if that feed is an ad, like I found when I logged on Facebook this morning, you can end up with a page with no updates from real people.
Are the changes for the worse?
Now, maybe a page filled with ads isn’t the worst thing in the world. Sometimes my feed is filled with updates from companies and brands that I’ve liked, which aren’t really ads at all, since the companies don’t pay for that real estate. And many of the ads based on my browsing history and online shopping are fairly tailored to my interests, and are things I might buy. But compared to the News Feed in 2011, the modern version is starting to feel like it fulfills a totally different function.
So will a page full of ads and updates from companies encourage people to quit Facebook? That’s the big question. Craig Mod wrote on Friday that he actually likes using Facebook as long as he takes care to hide all of the people and updates he doesn’t like. And it’s true that Facebook says the strongest signal you can send its algorithims is hiding something or someone from your feed. So you can certainly make the ads more useful if you want to keep using the site.
But if the company rolls out auto-play video ads like people suspect, that could send a lot of people over the top. While 94 percent of teens are on Facebook, a recent Pew study said that their enthusiasm for the site is waning as more adults fill the service. And in February, one in four people told Pew that they expected to spend less time on Facebook in the coming year.
Facebook has denied that teens are losing interest in the site, but on a recent earnings call they pointed to Instagram as the service teens were using — the app that currently has minimal advertising in its feed. Facebook’s future growth potential as a business hinges on its ability to strike the right balanace between revenue from advertising and the quality of user experience.