This week Facebook announced an algorithmic change designed to put more informational content in front of its users in the news feed.
Writing for Mashable in 2010, Ben Parr described the difference between a social and informational network:
There’s no disputing that Facebook is the poster child for social networking. It is the platform for building social connections online and keeping up to date with what’s happening in your social circle. It is one of the two most important platforms in social media.
The other one is Twitter. However, if you try to describe Twitter as a “social network” to anyone who works at the company, they’ll quickly correct you. Internally and externally, Twitter describes itself as an “information network.”
The new Facebook algorithm will discriminate between meme photos and “high quality” news content in order filter what users are exposed to in their feed. A news story that a user wouldn’t normally see, for example, will appear in their feed if one of their Facebook friends comments on it.
This means content and activity from weak ties could trump those coming from a user’s strong ties. And if Facebook hashtags are any indication, additional Twitter-esque product updates won’t resonate with Facebook users.
Facebook said in a blog post Monday that the news feed update “recognizes that people want to see more relevant news and what their friends have to say about it.”
But users who have come to rely on Facebook for its social sharing component may not appreciate a shift to the informational model analogous to Twitter, particularly if photos and status updates are replaced by news and informational content, and despite the quality rating assigned to it by Facebook.
Facebook is likely courting publishers based on reports of sharp increases in referral traffic. TripAdvisor says Facebook is responsible for a 30% increase in traffic referrals. Between September 2012 and September 2013, TIME’s referral traffic from Facebook increased 208% and Buzzfeed saw an increase of 855%.
These increases imply that social media like Facebook are a huge boost for brand awareness. Facebook has become synonymous with ‘updates,’ so users understand that information on a company’s Facebook page is recent and correct. Often, updates on a Facebook business page are more reliable than the company website.
When the company filed to go public in February of 2012, it said, “Each person’s experience on Facebook is unique and completely personalized—akin to reading a real-time newspaper or stories compiled just for them that they can carry with them wherever they go.”
Ironically, personalization of this sort risks making the network much less personal.