One of the features that Facebook has always been incredibly sneaky about is the order of posts that appear in the News Feed. By default, it’s algorithmic (it’s called Top Stories), which means that Facebook decides the order in which you view the posts. It’s okay if you trust the company’s machine learning algorithms, but just seeing the posts in the order they appear chronologically has many benefits.
Facebook offers an option to show the most recent stories in the News Feed – it is hidden in the Shortcuts menu, possibly under View more – but the setting “eventually” returns to the main news. This strange behavior shows how important it is for Facebook to continue showing stories in the order you choose, but it is also extremely annoying if you are determined to see the latest stories, as there is no permanent way to activate this feature. (Notably, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was recently asked by the US Congress about how the company’s algorithms work).
Now, Facebook has made some changes to this, but it’s still being very suspicious.
On Wednesday, the company announced a new mobile feature called the Feed Filter Bar, which basically offers two new tabs at the top of its News Feed. You can choose between the home page, which shows the main news chosen by algorithms; Favorites, which displays posts from people you’ve chosen as such (see how to set Favorites here); and Recent, which offers a chronological view of your timeline.
Finally, you say! Not so fast. There is still no way to permanently switch to Recents, which means that you’ll have to tap this tab every time you open the app. Worse yet, the Feed Filter Bar option does not appear for all users. According to Alexandru Voica, a Facebook representative, the feature “appears if you use these features frequently”.
Forget about the temporary nature of the Newer feature, the fact that the feed filter bar doesn’t even show up unless you use another feature often is just plain weird and will definitely be confusing when you try to explain to someone how to turn it on.
I wanted to try all of this on the iPhone, but these features are currently only available on Android (Facebook says the Feed Filter Bar feature should be available on iOS “in the coming weeks”). So I opened the latest version of Facebook on an Android smartphone, but still no data – I don’t see the Favorites feature and the feed filter bar doesn’t appear for me. I don’t even see the Favorites feature on the web version of Facebook. The above text may be specific to me, but I’m sharing it just to show how complicated it can be for a user to access a new simple feature on Facebook – especially when that feature gives the user more control.
Note that I can still access the most recent stories through the shortcut menu (located in the upper left corner of the Facebook web version and in the upper right corner of the mobile version). But it is not very practical – for example, on the cell phone, when browsing the most recent stories, you lose access to most of the menus and options; the only way to reach them is to tap the back arrow in the upper left corner, which takes you back to the standard version of Facebook.
I asked Facebook to elaborate a little on these features and I will update the post when I have a response.
The good news about all of this is that it is now – more or less – easier to get a chronological view of the stories in your Facebook news feed. But it definitely looks like Facebook is not even remotely ready to give its users complete and easy control of what they see in their feeds.
Facebook has also added more controls to manage who can comment on your public posts – it can be anyone, friends or profiles and pages you mention. Finally, the company is providing more context about suggested posts through “Why am I seeing this?” option.