Facebook Clusters Topics In News Feed, Opens Can Of Worms

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Facebook has been trying to figure out its News Feed since it launched in 2006, and of course because it’s Facebook every time it changes absolutely anything it seems to throw users into tumult. Earlier today the company launched the latest incremental step in its quest to try to make sense of the sheer amount of realtime data it processes: Aggregated Topic clusters in the Facebook News Feed.

Facebook is reportedly planning on creating an unfiltered News Feed, which would open the floodgates on the entire stream of things shared (right now the feed is algorithmically filtered by things like how close you are to the person who shared it, recency and intentional actions like Likes).

I’m guessing in preparation for that massive change the News Feed team thought, “Hey, what are some ways we can make this less of a shit show?”

And what did they come up with? While I’m not sure what they ultimately have in store, what they launched today was Page aggregation by Topic, so that whenever your friends post something related to Apple for example, it gets aggregated into a cluster with all the other stories about Apple and tags the Apple fan page. For example a couple of stories about the iPhone resulted in this semi-relevant cluster about the iPhone. Except that my post wasn’t relevant at all.

Facebook has said that it will be using Natural Language Processing to match words in status updates to brand pages, but it will not be using human editors or sentiment analysis to filter out or cluster negative or positive stories, or corral unrelated elements. “There will inevitably be comical or unsavory combinations of posts,” says Inside Facebook’s Josh Constine. See the Jesus cluster above.

While it seems obvious that Facebook is doing this to increase in engagement on Fan Pages, it doesn’t seem to add very much value to users and is a toss for brands.

It seems like this could potentially run into many of the same problems that Twitter has with its attempts to assign user-generated content to branded content. With 700 million users, the potential for false positives is amazing. We might as well start the “Posted About Fail” Tumblr now.

But while the requisite “I hate any and all change” uproar has commenced on the Wall where the new feature was announced, I haven’t heard much complaining in my own (relatively more tech savvy) News Feed. Perhaps because the feature doesn’t seem to be implemented across the board.

I personally haven’t seen a cluster since around 3pm PST today and one user reported that the feed was recently aggregating links the old-fashioned way a. k. a ” … 5 of your friends shared a link.”

Maybe someone up there in Palo Alto realized what they were trying to accomplish was pretty damn hard and unlaunched? I’ve asked Facebook PR if they’ve pulled back at all on the feature and have yet to receive comment.