For most of Facebook’s history, its executives have implemented a tried-and-true playbook: imitating others’ success.
On Thursday, the company, renamed Meta, continued this tactic with a revamp of its main Facebook app that will change the way users browse the service and make it somewhat like one of its biggest competitors.
Facebook users will soon open the app on a new home tab that will contain a feed of photos, frequent videos, and status updates from a mix of friends and family. The Home tab will also display a variety of posts from people and pages not connected to the user’s network, titled “Suggested for You”.
This category will be driven by what Facebook’s algorithms think someone might want to see, based on thousands of individual information signals and a user’s browsing history on Facebook. The so-called discovery engine behind those algorithms is powered by Facebook’s artificial intelligence technology.
In short, the Facebook app will work like TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media app. While Facebook has historically associated people with content their friends produce, video-based TikTok relies on algorithmic signals and viral content to show viewers highly engaging posts, without having to rely on someone’s network of friends or connections.
The change is part of a push by Meta to push the use of its social apps, which also includes Instagram. In recent months, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been promoting video products across Instagram and Facebook, as the company has included more suggested content to keep users engaged and returning regularly to the apps. Mr. Zuckerberg said the equation appears to be working on Instagram.
The Home tab follows a popular social media trend known as Discovery, which mainly relies on algorithms and machine learning to better understand and deliver the types of content a user might like without a person working hard to find it. Facebook is investing heavily in this area, as are companies like Snap and Twitter.
TikTok’s focus on discovery and delivering engaging content has been a phenomenon on social media. Founded less than a decade ago, TikTok has added hundreds of millions of users over the past few years. Young people spend more than 90 minutes a day watching TikTok, according to some estimates, and even outperform YouTube in the time they spend inside the app.
This put pressure on the Meta group of apps. Its executives have grown increasingly concerned about the percentage of young users migrating to TikTok and other emerging social media apps, and to combat attrition, Facebook and Instagram executives have made product changes that track competitors’ movements. In 2020, Instagram introduced Reels, a short, repetitive video product almost identical to the one produced by TikTok.
Meta has made major changes in the past in how its products work, sometimes even halting its user base. But new changes happen more subtly over time. The Home tab will still be full of posts from friends and groups and will slowly introduce external content as it ramps up more videos and reels posts from influencers. While this approach has been successful for TikTok, it is unclear whether Facebook users will accept the changes – or whether they will notice.
In the Facebook app update, users should expect to see more short videos and reels on the Home tab as the company refines algorithms and improves the discovery experience. Home page content can also include images or articles from pages and groups that the user is not already following.
Users can still choose to view content only from friends, family, or certain Pages – without seeing suggested offline posts – by going to the new Feeds tab. Under the Feeds tab, people can view content in categories such as posts from friends, posts from groups they belong to and Pages they’re in, or a collection of everything combined and posted in reverse chronological order.
Zuckerberg said people will still control what they see in the app through the Feeds tab.
“One of the most requested features on Facebook is making sure people don’t miss friends’ posts,” he said in a Facebook post. “The app will remain open to display a personalized feed on the Home tab, where our discovery engine will recommend content we think you will be most interested in. But the Feeds tab will give you a way to further customize and control your experience.”
The Facebook app update will roll out globally over the next week.
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