Facebook wants to be for the people, even if that means people using Facebook less.
Facebook on Thursday announced that it's making big changes, heavily prioritizing stuff from your friends and family over companies and publishers you follow.
For the media outlets that spent years racking up millions of Facebook "likes" and creating new Pages, that's bad news. Even Facebook's Head of News Feed Adam Mosseri told the New York Times, publishers may have "anxiety."
But for the Facebook user — no matter the demographic — Mark Zuckerberg's big mandate is to put the social back in his social network. It's a clear effort to return Facebook to what it used to be, a place for friends to stay up to date with each other and communicate.
Facebook was a completely different beast before News Feed launched in 2006. For me and millions of other high school students during that time, Facebook was where we went to talk. When we weren't sending private messages over AIM (RIP), we were doing "Wall to Wall," where Facebook users were encouraged to post back and forth on each other's Facebook profiles because there were no threaded comments. Instead of a Facebook Timeline, we each had our own "Wall." We asked each other how we were doing and what we were up to that weekend. When Facebook launched video, we were leaving monologues and waiting for replies.
But that charm has disappeared from Facebook. Now users scroll mindlessly on News Feed, where Facebook's mysterious algorithms randomly select what videos to show, among other #content. Facebook now calls this "passive" consumption, and they want to move away from it.
Instead, Facebook will be boosting "meaningful" interaction with a heavy emphasis on comments.
In other words: Facebook is going back to people.
"We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us. That's why we've always put friends and family at the core of the experience," Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post.
Conversation wasn't completely lost on Facebook. Publishers are quite familiar with how Facebook users will tag friends on posts they think they'll enjoy. Yet, the habit of back and forth — the old "Wall to Wall" — had dissipated.
Now, Facebook is not-so-quietly letting publishers who begged for user attention fade away. Zuckerberg's putting his faith back in the users themselves. The algorithm is focusing on the people, what they say, and what they share.
Likes are no longer everything. In Facebook's new world, comments are king. Facebook pushed that mantra on Instagram as well. Mosseri told The Verge's Casey Newton and Mashable's Jason Abbruzzese that words really matter.
Comments tend to me more meaningful than likes for one. Another is when someone adds context to something the find and share people find the story more meaning than when they don’t.
— Adam Mosseri (@mosseri) January 12, 2018
The above is also an example of the power of platforms — in this instance, Twitter — to inspire conversations.
Of course, not every comment is meaningful and the fact that Zuckerberg's is betting the future of his company on conversation is risky. It's not immediately clear how Facebook decides just which comments are meaningful, though Mosseri noted that length is an important part of the equation.
"Much of what we’ve learned is relatively intuitive, like longer comments tend to be more meaningful to the recipient than shorter ones," Mosseri tweeted.
Not everyone wants to comment though. And while posting about plans and having conversations with friends publicly — or, well, with Facebook friends — might have seemed cool in 2006, as Snapchat proved, some people like their messages to disappear. Facebook's efforts to counter Snapchat have been well documented.
Taken to its extreme, a Facebook full of people commenting on stuff sounds, well, a lot like Twitter, another company that Facebook has a storied history of coveting. Twitter, however, tends to be siloed online while part of Facebook's magic has always been its ability to spill over into the real world.
By taking Facebook back to its roots, Zuckerberg is hoping to recapture that — and fulfill his goals of ensuring that Facebook helps build communities that touch people's lives.
Facebook did touch my life when it first came out, when it was a place that enriched my friendships. It was for people. Maybe it can be again.