PEOPLE HAVE TOO many complaints about Facebook’s News Feed to count, but they all come back to the same problem: The stream isn’t showing people what they want to see. Facebook has attempted to improve this, of course. The “unfollow” toggle allows you to stay friends with someone without seeing their inconsequential updates, and the ability to label connections as Close Friends, Acquaintances, Family, and so on, plays into the News Feed algorithm as well. (Or you could just use those programmed groups as “News Feeds,” if you really wanted to.)
None of these iterative tweaks has actually solved the problem. Now Facebook is testing a new potential band-aid, according to a feature spotted by TechCrunch’s Josh Constine. “See First” is a button that would sit on user profiles. If you click it, you are essentially starring that person or page. Doing so would supposedly ensure you would never miss their posts, and they would go to the top of your “Top Stories” feed rather than get buried. This is the opposite of the “unfollow” option; with See First, you are saying, “I always want to follow.”
Essentially, what Facebook’s doing here is giving users more control over ranking their connections. Being able to assign some sort of value to what users (and official pages) post gives the network insight into what you want to see—which, of course, has plenty of implications for publishers and marketers who are desperate to find out what makes Facebook users tick (or rather, click). But it also means that the News Feed could get a little better: Facebook has said the strength of your connection with a friend plays into its algorithm (do you Like someone’s status consistently? Do youlinger on their posts for awhile? Comment regularly?), but it stands to reason that you do all these things to the posts that are showing up—if you aren’t seeing much of someone’s content, then you’re not being given the opportunity to interact with it. If you’re able to engineer it so that you interact more, then perhaps you can break the News Feed cycle you’ve been stuck in.
It’s worth mentioning that there’s no granularity here: If you want to see updates and photos from a friend, but not necessarily every single article they share or the results of every Facebook quiz they take, you’re out of luck.
On the flip side, if your Facebook feed weren’t already an echo chamber of people saying the same thing and repeating the same ideas, then you could absolutely try to make it such. There’s a danger in securing your online world from new or challenging ideas (or new people!), and such a level of control could allow us to make certain we see nothing except the ideas and friends we’re comfortable with. You may have also see a sidebar quiz pop up (which popped up for me this morning), asking you how well you know someone. Whether or not this is related to the development of “See First” remains to be seen, but either way it’s clear that Facebook really wants to know how well you know people and likely, how much you want to see information from them.
It’s really difficult to determine what’s right for Facebook’s News Feed. The entire network has gotten so big and busy that there simply isn’t enough space in the center of your screen to show you everything worth seeing. But hey, if you’re of the mind that you know what’s best for your feed (a perfectly legitimate mind to be of, for the record), then “See First” will be another weapon in your arsenal.