Like Marty McFly in Back to the Future, Facebook’s latest update is performing a delicate balancing act of past and present.
On Thursday, the social network’s parent company Meta said Facebook users will soon be able to open a new tool called “Feeds,” offering a throwback to Facebook’s pre-algorithmic origins with a chronological feed of recent photos, status updates, and the usual gripes about politics from friends and family. The site’s main news feed, now called “Home,” will undergo its own remake as a “discovery engine” driven by users’ online habits and filled with TikTok-like short videos.
Facebook in the Mirror
As algorithms became the primary tool for social media companies to organize the content users encounter, theoretically with surgical precision, more and more people clamored for a return to the old-fashioned, non-manipulated, chronological timeline. Twitter even abandoned a default algorithmic feed within days earlier this year, following uproar.
Instagram, which is owned by Meta, also brought back a chronological feed option earlier this year, by popular demand. That same blast from the past will be rolled out to all Facebook users in the next several weeks, but it doesn’t mean the company is abandoning its focus on the so-called metaverse or the short-form videos that attract younger users:
- In April, Meta reported its slowest quarterly revenue growth since it went public in 2012 and, earlier this year, reported losing users for the first time ever. But it also took the fight to emergent TikTok when it launched competing short-form video feature Reels in February.
- The new “Home” news feed will fulfill the company’s objective, laid out earlier this year, to up its use of artificial intelligence to recommend content to users, including on Reels (through which it plans to pay out $1 billion to content creators).
Who’s Next? Facebook’s eye on TikTok is more than merited. The Chinese-owned video-sharing app has been going rapidly viral in the digital ad market. Last year, it became the internet’s most visited site, according to Cloudflare, and overtook Snapchat in worldwide ad revenues. This year, analysts at Insider Intelligence forecast TikTok will triple those revenues to $11.6 billion, more than Twitter and Snapchat combined. By 2024, the analysts said revenues will be on par with Youtube, with both earning $23.6 billion.