Facebook’s News Feed Knows What You Did Last Summer

newsfeed.gifWhen Facebook turned on News Feeds for the first time in September 2006, many users were spooked by the privacy implications of a system that logs and broadcasts your activity to your friends. However, much of the concern quickly subsided – perhaps because it’s worked so well, the system that powers Facebook’s News Feed hasn’t gotten much attention since then. As Facebook engineer Justin Rosenstein remarked this summer,

“News Feed works so well that it’s sometimes easy to forget how sophisticated it is under the covers. If you have a lot of friends, your Facebook home page is displaying only a tiny fraction of what’s going on in your social network. The system that selects the right subset is impressive from both an AI perspective (with a ranking algorithm that uses signals based on user behavior throughout the site) and a systems perspective (efficiently processing 1.2 trillion story candidates every day).”

According to Facebook, News Feed publishes just a little more than 0.2% of the stories it considers. This means that of the 1.2 trillion story candidates Facebook considers every day, only 2.4 billion get published in users’ News Feeds. And on a per user basis, that means each user sees only 60 out of about 30,000 possible story candidates on any given day.

The News Feed Algorithm

How does Facebook decide which ones to show? Of course, Facebook will never publish the weighting algorithms, which are constantly changing. But according to Facebook’s Rosenstein, while the weighting algorithms do apply some general principles (see NFO is the new SEO for tips on optimizing your feed items), they primarily rely on behavior specific to each user.

In fact, Facebook considers nearly every available source of data it has on each user to help calibrate their weights and deliver the best stories:

  • Whose profile pages you visit – and how frequently, how recently, and how often
  • Who you message, and who messages you
  • Whose walls you write on, and who writes on yours
  • Who/what you search for
  • What’s on your profile
  • Who you invite to events and groups, who accepts, and who invites you
  • Who you tag in photos, and who tags you
  • Which News Feed items you’ve clicked on before

Facebook is able to choose the right 60 News Feed stories for you because, based on your behavior, Facebook knows who and what is important to you.

This is a Big Deal – the News Feed has quietly revolutionized the way information flows across the social graph. The quality at which it subtly functions is truly a landmark technical achievement, and Facebook users vote with their feet: 50% log in every day.

Privacy & Security

Of course, with this amount of personal information, there is always a necessary privacy angle. According to Facebook’s privacy policy, Facebook reserves the right to log everything users do on the site in order to offer “personalized features:”

When you use Facebook, you may set up your personal profile, form relationships, send messages, perform searches and queries, form groups, set up events, add applications, and transmit information through various channels. We collect this information so that we can provide you the service and offer personalized features.

While Facebook offers extensive privacy controls, it doesn’t give users the option to opt out of data collection for personalized features. This means that if you’re a Facebook user, Facebook is keeping tabs on everything you do whether you know it or not. As long as this information is always used properly, Facebook will increasingly be able to provide better features like the News Feed.

However, improper use or distribution of this information could be devastating. (How embarrassing would it be if that crush or co-worker found out how frequently you were viewing their profile?) Facebook has never allowed this to happen on the site (and says it never will). In addition, Facebook has not allowed third party applications (like Trakzor) to log or display this information either (this is possible on MySpace).

However, there were recent rumors that Facebook employees may have abused access to this personal information by emailing personal friends who they discovered had visited their profile page frequently. As Facebook hopes to occupy a trusted space in the lives of tens of millions of people, Facebook needs to establish its trustworthiness on these matters and quickly clean up its act.

Future of News Feed

Ultimately, the News Feed has even more potential to become the Most Important Way Information Spreads Online. Most pressing is the need for News Feed to publish application stories to friends who don’t have the given application installed.

Currently, only the News Feed story that says you’ve added a given application is visible to all of your friends (and it alone generates a meaningful number of installations):

addapp.png

However, once you’ve added the application, stories about your interaction with the app are only visible to your friends who also have the app. While intended to reduce the incentive to News Feed spam, this restriction cripples the News Feed’s ability to help highly engaging applications spread. If Facebook wants to encourage the development of applications that are deeply engaging over long periods of time instead of fly-by-night gimmicks, they should allow these stories to be visible to all your friends.

As other social networking services open their own platforms over the coming year, they will be hard pressed to close the competitive gap Facebook has created with News Feed soon. Within six to nine months, News Feed will have considered over one quadrillion News Feed items on which to tune its algorithms since its launch over a year ago. I just wish News Feed would let me see more of my 30,000 stories a day.

[tags]facebook, news feed, virality, privacy[/tags]

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Leave a Reply

20 Responses to “Facebook’s News Feed Knows What You Did Last Summer”

  1. David Ambrose says:

    great post.

  2. Hashim Warren says:

    Facebook’s news feed seems to me like the secret sauce of their tool, in the same way Pagerank is like that for Google.

  3. evans ink » Blog Archive » the facebook feeding frenzy says:

    [...] heads about this, and think of Facebook as “yet another social site”, do check out this article. Inside Facebook provides some eye-opening statistics on the way Facebook determines what shows up [...]

  4. Alberto says:

    This is interesting – definitely agree that news feed is the core of Facebook or as Hashim just put it FB’s secret sauce. I have some doubts though on the efficiency/complexity of the weighting: I receive lots of X added Y application, followed X removed Y application. I can only imagine what the other 29.900+ feeds are…

  5. Neil says:

    Obviously Facebook dev team will have augmented and tweaked the News Feed to get it to where it is today, but how much do you think the company spent on getting the first iteration out the door?

  6. dave mcclure says:

    great post & couldn’t agree more.

    however, i must advise you that you now owe me $.02 for the “knows what you did last summer” headline licensing rights:
    http://tinyurl.com/325m36

    ;)

  7. Pascal Van Hecke - Daily Links » 2007 » October » 29 says:

    [...] Facebook’s News Feed Knows What You Did Last Summer “Your Facebook home page is displaying only a tiny fraction of what’s going on in your social network. The system that selects the right subset is impressive from both an AI perspective and a systems perspective.” (tags: facebook personalisation personalization attenuation artificialintelligence ai algorithm aggregation newsfeed socialnetwork aggregator feedreadingstrategies filtering socialsoftware attention) [...]

  8. moe says:

    Excellent post. I have been reading about the rumored facebook social ad-words network and after this post I’m more confident they can pull it off. The thing people have to realize is that facebook collects a lot more data then just your profile. Like many smart tech companies they have realized the golden key of the internet, organized data is power.

    I think the newsfeed will be seen as the building block of the facebook ad word module down the line. To display relevant data based on the user’s previous actions rather then the webpage is an interesting thought. Bayesian filtering with a twist?

    moe

  9. BadPopcorn » Social Adwords vs Regular Adwords says:

    [...] The newsfeed module can be seen as the building blocks for the ad module. It basically shows you content of what you should be interested in. Facebook could use these same algorithms and just run with them to display ads.  Read this great article for more about new feeds. [...]

  10. Humdinger: MarketHum’s blog on marketing, media, innovation and community » How Facebook Ranks Stories says:

    [...] an interesting post about the factors Facebook takes into account when choosing whether or not to incorporate your [...]

  11. John From Berkeley » links for 2007-10-31 says:

    [...] Inside Facebook » Facebook’s News Feed Knows What You Did Last Summer [...]

  12. Doobybrain.com » Blog Archive » Wednesday winks says:

    [...] This is somewhat of a long read, but if you’re interested, here’s a general overview of how Facebook’s News Feed selects what is news and what isn’t. [...]

  13. Links for 2007-10-29 [del.icio.us] | Turkey business portal says:

    [...] Inside Facebook » Facebook’s News Feed Knows What You Did Last Summer Insight into how Facebook chooses what to show in people’s News feeds("NFO is the new SEO"). [...]

  14. Links for 2007-10-31 — Facebook Observer says:

    [...] Facebook’s News Feeds What you Did Last Summer? at Inside Facebook. [...]

  15. Facebook’s News Feed Knows What You Did Last Summer auf maol Jeopardy! says:

    [...] Welches ist die erste grosse Implementation eines Systems, welches unwichtige oder irrelevante Infor… ausfiltert, basierend auf der dynamisch ändernden Aufmerksamkeit eines jeden Benutzers? [...]

  16. Facebook Isn’t Un-cool, You’re Un-cool. says:

    [...] when “news feed” first came out? (And if you don’t, and you claim to be a social media expert…) Everyone hated it. It [...]

  17. What is EdgeRank? - The Walk says:

    [...] numbers on this are frightening. In 2007, a Facebook engineer said in an interview that only about 0.2% of eligible stories make it into a user’s news feed. That means that your status update is competing with 499 other stories for a single slot in a [...]

  18. What is EdgeRank? | Mel Taylor Media says:

    [...] numbers on this are frightening. In 2007, a Facebook engineer said in an interview that only about 0.2% of eligible stories make it into a user’s newsfeed. That means that your status update is competing with 499 other stories for a single slot in a [...]

  19. How Facebook “EdgeRank” algorithm works - Pull The Trigger | Pull The Trigger says:

    [...] with their potential clients, but did you know that, according to Facebook engineers, only about 0.2% of eligible stories make it into a user’s [...]

  20. Why is Facebook hiding your posts? Edgerank explained. says:

    [...] numbers on this are frightening. In 2007, a Facebook engineer said in an interview that only about 0.2% of eligible stories make it into a user’s newsfeed. That means that your status update is competing with 499 other stories for a single slot in a [...]

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