The Internet has changed the planet: it has changed the need for humanity to keep so much information in mind but instead we rely on this ever-present resource for information and communication. Our banking and telecommunications systems are also dependent on the stream of 1s and 0s around us. The Internet has made the world feel smaller: it is now possible to call a friend on the other side of the world as though they were in the next street, free of charge.
There is one way that the Internet has changed the world and that’s the news. Thanks to either a direct or indirect contribution, news is now easy to access. It lends itself well to our cell ‘phones, because it’s easy to pull a smartphone from a pocket and flick through the headlines. There are many applications, services and technologies optimized for reading the news on our cell ‘phones and to improve how we access information. One such service is Facebook, which over the years has gradually morphed itself from a means of connecting individuals to a means of connecting individuals with businesses. And with 1.44 billion regular users across the world, Facebook has traditional news and media companies nervously looking over their shoulders: the company is competing with these businesses for advertising dollars.
This week, we’ve seen something of a seasonal change in how Facebook shows the news. Earlier in the week, our News Feed in the Facebook application (or using the web page) contained a mix of personal news and business articles. We saw our sister’s new baby with sponsored articles thought relevant to us based on our profile. This week, however, Facebook announced a change in how it uses the News Feed. We’re going to see more baby photographs and less sponsored news articles.
There are a few structural reasons for this and one is that Facebook has been under fire in recent months for putting bias into the Trending Topics feature. It also kept quiet when a board member was exposed as having secretly supported a lawsuit against another media company, Gawker. However, the main reason for this structural change is probably because the algorithms used to generate relevant news stories for our News Feed were stopping us from engaging on the reason why we signed up to Facebook: for keeping up with friends and family. Facebook’s U-turn is about making our news personal and local again. It’s moving back to the way things were before we had dozens of news channels, websites, radio stations and similar.
This change will likely mean that those few minutes looking through our Facebook feed will be less productive than before.