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What Happened to Facebook's New News Feed?

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It’s been over a year since Facebook announced its new state-of-the-art News Feed. Only a handful of users got to see it, however; instead, Facebook rolled out a minor revamp to its traditional News Feed. What happened to the new News Feed? Why did Facebook change course? And what's new about the revamped News Feed? This article, by author Michael Miller, answers all these Facebook-related questions and more.
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Do you remember, about a year ago, when Facebook said it would be rolling out a new version of its venerable New Feed? Well, they did, even though few people actually ended up seeing it. Facebook dragged its heels on rolling out the new News Feed, eventually dropping it in favor of a slight redesign of the current News Feed.

What was the new News Feed all about? Why did Facebook kill it? And what's new about the revised News Feed that Facebook ended up rolling out in April? Read on to learn more.

Introducing the New News Feed – For a Few

In March of 2013 announced that it would be introducing a new version of its home page News Feed – you know, the scrolling list of posts from your friends and pages you like. The old News Feed was looking old, Facebook said, and it was time for a major visual revamp.

Figure 1 Facebook's old News Feed – what most users saw until fairly recently

This new News Feed would actually include several feeds that you choose between – the traditional News Feed, a Most Recent feed, an All Friends feed, a Photos feed, and more – that you selected from a new Feeds List on the right side of the page. This way you could personalize, to a degree, what you saw in your feed. (Or view different types of content at different times, without ever leaving the main page.)

In addition, everything in the feed was bigger. Bigger text, bigger pictures (especially), so that the whole thing was a lot more visual than the old text-based feed. Some thought the new design looked more than a little like Google+, and there may be some truth in that.

Figure 2 Facebook's March 2013 "new" News Feed – which most users never saw

What the new News Feed really looked like was Facebook's mobile app, which already featured bigger pictures and text and such. It made the experience of shifting from the desktop site to the mobile app a little less jarring.

The new News Feed also redesigned the left-side navigation bar. The new navigation bar replaced the previous hierarchical text menu with a series of large icons for Photos, Calendar, and other site features. These new icons were big and bold and took up a lot of space, and actually imposed a slightly different navigational paradigm on the page. (In other words, users had to learn a slightly different way of doing things.)

All in all, a very visual redesign, and one that some users were really looking forward to. (Countless others who dislike any change were waiting with trepidation, of course.) But the thing is, very few people saw the new design. A month went by, then two, then six, then a full year and only a handful of users found the new News Feed when they logged in. Facebook was supposedly testing the design on a small number of users, and never rolled it out on a wide scale. People kept asking when they'd see the new News Feed – but the answer was "never."

Instead, just about a year later (in March of 2014), Facebook announced and rolled out a slight revamp of the existing News Feed. This version of the News Feed keeps the traditional left-side navigation bar and does away with the notion of multiple feeds, but still introduces a slightly better-looking feed with a different (and larger) font and more prominent photos. It's an incremental change rather than a dramatic one, several steps short of what Facebook said they'd introduce a year prior.

What Went Wrong with the New News Feed

Why did Facebook decide not to roll out the revolutionary new News Feed, and instead introduce an evolutionary News Feed revamp? It depends on who you talk to.

One's first response in hearing that Facebook pulled back on a revolutionary redo is that users probably didn't like it. Facebook users are notorious for resisting change of any kind; the previous big changes to the News Feed, in 2009 and 2011, brought out the angry villagers with pitchforks. (In fact, there were a raft of negative reactions to the March 2014 revamp, as minor as it ended up being compared to what could have been.) It seemed logical that the new News Feed met with negative reaction from test users and thus had to be scrapped.

That doesn't appear to be the reason for killing it, however. Instead, some sources claim that the new News Feed was axed by Facebook because it was too good – that is, it did too good a job in modernizing the reading experience. Blogger Dan Curtis reports that Facebook found users of the new News Feed spent considerably less time browsing other site content, such as user's Timeline and event pages. By spending all their time in the now better-performing News Feed, users actually spent less time on the Facebook site overall. That isn't good for ad dollars, as you might suspect, so the major revamp was scrapped in favor of the more modest one.

For its part, Facebook says that it changed horses midstream due to user feedback. Facebook notes that most computer users do not view the site on large, high-resolution monitors, and as such had to scroll more down the page to view the same amount of content they did previously. This is due to the larger fonts and graphics in new News Feed; stories appeared "taller" than they did previously.

(I can vouch for that; I found myself scrolling endlessly to do just about anything in the new News Feed. Of course, I can say pretty much the same about the more modest revamp, too, which also uses bigger fonts and pictures.)

So which was it, a focus on ad revenue or a focus on usability that convinced Facebook to ditch the more extensive revamp? It's hard to say, and could be a little bit of both. Certainly, the revamp isn't as dramatic a change as the proposed new News Feed, so that probably keeps Facebook's one billion plus existing users slightly less verklempt. When your user base is that big, changes have to be incremental or you face the angry villagers.

Evaluating Facebook's Changes to the Traditional News Feed

All this said, Facebook's recently introduced revision is cleaner and more visually appealing than the News Feed we've been using for the past several years. Whatever you thought of the existing News Feed, it's difficult to argue that the redesign is for the better.

So what does the revamped News Feed offer? Here's what you'll find:

  • Bigger "stories" with a larger, more readable font.
  • More focus on the visuals, in particular larger photos and thumbnails of linked-to websites. With the larger photos, you don't have to click away from the News Feed to view them clearly. Multiple photos from the same users appear as a college in a single post.
  • The left-hand navigation bar is a little cleaner, while still maintaining the previous organization.

Figure 3 Facebook's March 2014 News Feed revamp – looks a little like the "new" news feed, but without the major operational changes

Here's what didn't change: Facebook's ads in the far right column, and the algorithm that Facebook users to deliver content to the News Feed. Yes, Facebook is continually tweaking its feed algorithm (most recently to weed out spam and frequently-posted content), but the revamped News Feed still contains traditional News Feed content – posts from your friends and pages and groups you've liked. It also retains the same basic layout and navigation.

Is the revamped News Feed an improvement over the old one? Yes, even if those improvements are mainly cosmetic. Is the revamped News Feed as good as the older new News Feed promised to be? Probably not, but that major revamp might have been too much for most users. As it is, enough people are complaining about these relatively minor changes; imagine if Facebook had forced the completely new News Feed on the unsuspecting user base!

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