When Facebook users howl in protest over changes to its news feed, those cries do not fall on deaf ears, but Director of Engineering Jocelyn Goldfein, the woman responsible for the area where users of the social network spend most of their time, has an answer for them: “If we don’t disrupt ourselves, someone else will disrupt us. We have to constantly improve. If today’s Facebook was the same as the 2007 Facebook, we’d be dead.”
Goldfein, who has been in her post for two-and-a-half years, spoke with The Economic Times about how news feed has evolved and users’ reactions to the constant changes:
Our goal was to reduce noise and find the best stuff for the news feed. It was about high-quality stories versus low-quality stories. We also viewed it as an issue of determinism versus magic, fresh versus stale, and consumption versus interaction.
They invariably say, “Bring back the old Facebook,” every time we make a change. People respond that way because they have an emotional investment in the product. And it’s because we favor high-risk, high-reward options that make a big difference.
The product-development culture at Facebook is based on experimentation. The Google algorithm has one right answer, ours doesn’t. The quality of news feed depends on the users and their friends, who create the content. Our way is to experiment and quickly put out prototypes that are used by our own people so we get a sense of what might work. We went through three prototypes for news feed before we launched the new version.
Today, if you log on after a week, you get all the important stories since you last logged in. If you hang out on Facebook, you’ll see changed feeds. It has the magic element because you see the best stories first, but it feels deterministic, which is something users like.
It helps to have a leader who is also the company’s founder. We’re always thinking, “What would (Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg) do in this situation?” We know he believes that growth in usage is of prime importance. Anything that is bad for users is bad for advertisers, so there’s really no trade-off between users and advertisers. Anything that increases usage will eventually monetize. The culture hasn’t changed since the company went public.
Readers: What changes to news feed would you like to see?