Over the next few days, Facebook will roll out a “Sort” option at the top of the news feed that lets users select to see Recent Stories First instead of the default Highlighted Stories. The new feature should appease users miffed by Facebook’s move to combine the old Most Recent and Top Stories news feed tabs into a single stream. Until now, the hybrid news feed launched in September forced users to first see what Facebook considered the most relevant content. Some users found these decisions inaccurate even though they have the option to teach the algorithm.
The Sort feature lets users prioritize real-time updates over older content that’s been deemed compelling because of Likes, comments, clicks, and the viewer’s relationship to a story’s author. However, it doesn’t split the feed in two. Facebook tells me “The intent behind these updates is to make News Feed easier to navigate while still showing all the news in one place.”
Facebook did away with the two-tabbed news feed because a significant portion of the user base never switched to the Most Recent feed from the default Top Stories. This led to a poor experience where they might see the same story multiple times, and miss out on urgent updates like invites to get together with friends or real-time conversations.
With Sort, if you constantly visit the site and want to make your own decisions about what’s important, or want to know what friends are up to at that moment, you can set it to Recent Stories First. If you visit infrequently, you can leave it on Highlighted Stories first so you don’t miss popular content even if it was published hours or days ago.
One’s Sort setting will presumably persist across sessions so you won’t have to reset it each time you log in. Update: Facebook has informed me that the Sort button will reset after users have been away for awhile. This means those who don’t prefer Facebook’s Highlighted Stories will still have to see them first on occasion, so there will still be opportunities for discontent.
Sort will empower Facebook’s more savvy and critical users to curate their own feed while maintaining a simple experience for those less adept at navigating the social network.