Facebook Now Cares About How Long You Look At Stuff In Your News Feed


You probably don’t always like/share/comment on the stuff that pops up in your Facebook feed, even if it’s something you care to see. Take, for example, a breaking news items about an earthquake on the other side of the world — you’d probably feel weird hitting a button labeled “Like” on that one, and you might not have anything to say… but that doesn’t mean you don’t care.

Realizing this, Facebook is tweaking its algorithms to account for a new metric: the amount of time you spend looking at things in your feed, regardless of whether or not you actively interact with it.

Scroll past something without stopping for long, and Facebook’s algorithms will slowly learn that you don’t particularly care for that sort of content.

Camp out on a post for a bit, though, and Facebook starts the timer behind the scenes. If you spend more time on this story than you spend on most things in your feed — studying a picture, perusing the comment thread — they’ll take that as a signal that it’s something you care about.

In other words: those endless baby photos and motivational fitness memes that you tend to scroll right on past? At least theoretically, this change allows Facebook’s algorithms to take the hint without requiring you to lift a finger.

It’ll be interesting/a little terrifying to see how this actually impacts what shows up in feeds, if only because it’s all so passive. Facebooks algorithm’s have thus far been largely tuned by what you’re liking/sharing/commenting on — actions that all require at least a modicum of conscious effort. Once things shift toward passive behavior analysis, Facebook’s News Feed begins to understand what you care about more than you ever could.

With that said, I wouldn’t expect any dramatic changes to what pops up in your feed — at least, not immediately. It’ll take some time/polish before they can give this data too much weight. They’ll have to account for things like users walking away from their computers with the news feed up but sitting on some random nonsense, and, on the other end, the folks (like me) who just mindlessly flick through the feed when bored without actually looking at much of anything..

Facebook says it’ll be rolling out the algorithm tweak in the coming weeks — but before all you social media managers of the world start panicking and coming up with new strategies involving super-long GIFs to keep people hovering, they also say that they “do not expect Pages to see significant changes in distribution as a result of this update”.