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Facebook Wants Your News Feed to Reflect What's Happening Right Now

Sep 18, 2014

"Facebook is for ice buckets, Twitter is for Ferguson."

That was John McDermott over at DigiDay about a month ago, writing on something social media obsessives were noticing that week: While our Twitter feeds were covered with tweets and photos from and about the protests in Ferguson, Mo., our Facebook News Feeds were about 70% Ice Bucket Challenges, the viral sensation that successfully raised millions of dollars for ALS research.

Some people — mostly journalists — framed that observation as a complaint. Facebook's news feed doesn't really do a good job of showing us the latest posts, a function at which Twitter, with its mostly chronological feeds, excels.

The reason is that Facebook's algorithm, the company's complex magic soup that determines what shows up on your News Feed at any given time, has long been designed to show you the most relevant stuff, not the latest stuff. And in August, Facebook's algorithm mostly determined that Ice Bucket Challenges were more relevant than Ferguson. That reinforced the idea that while Facebook's great for staying in touch with classmates and sharing baby photos with grandma, Twitter's the place to be for what's happening right now.

Facebook must've picked up on these comments and criticisms, because the company announced on Thursday tweaks designed to make the News Feed more about The Now.

First, Facebook will do a better job of showing you "what your friends or favorite Pages are saying about the stories of the day," which should help reverse the notion that Facebook isn't a place for timeliness. And second, Facebook's algorithm will start looking at "when people are choosing to like, comment and share" to determine which stories get moved from the depths of your News Feed to the very top, a change that should surface more immediate content.

Taken together, these changes could make Facebook a platform for breaking news — a big move into Twitter's well-established turf.

"We’ve heard feedback that there are some instances where a post from a friend or a Page you are connected to is only interesting at a specific moment, for example when you are both watching the same sports game, or talking about the season premiere of a popular TV show," reads Facebook's blog post about the changes. "There are also times when a post that is a day or two old may not be relevant to you anymore. Our latest update to News Feed ranking looks at two new factors to determine if a story is more important in the moment than other types of updates."

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