facebook newspaper

Posting to Facebook sometimes feels like whispering in a room crowded by people with megaphones. The company said today that the average Facebook user might encounter some 1,500 stories — Status Updates, photos, videos, and the like — every day. Stories are often lost to the digital aether, with every share competing against many others for our friends’ time and attention.

The rush to share, comment on, and Like many of these stories has turned Facebook into another right-now network that emphasizes presentness over quality. Lately the company has tried to change that, however, by introducing new features like the Timehop-esque “On This Day” and tweaking its News Feed to display stories that users might enjoy even if they weren’t posted within the last few minutes.

Allowing users to view stories based on their merit, as Facebook has done with the tweaks to News Feed’s algorithms, might change that — especially when the feature is viewed in conjunction with On This Day, which allows users to view the stories they and their friends were sharing one year ago. Facebook is still focused on the present, but it’s becoming increasingly enamored by the past.

These features are in line with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s claim that the social network is becoming the modern equivalent to a local newspaper. Facebook has certainly become the place where many people discuss the arts and local events, share news, and keep track of family and friends — that part of Zuckerberg’s metaphor has never been in question. But it was hard to argue that Facebook could resemble a newspaper, even one meant to be different from its paper-based predecessors, when many potentially noteworthy stories weren’t making their way to users’ screens.

A local newspaper has an editorial staff that decides which stories are most important to their readers — today’s changes, and the changes announced last March, are meant to bring a similar process to Facebook’s News Feed. The stories are still displayed based on the whims of Facebook’s algorithms, but it appears that those algorithms are growing smarter and smarter as the network ages.

And, between the newly-introduced News Feed categories that allow users to view photos, videos, or other stories in separate feeds and On This Day’s focus on the past, Facebook users have more control over what they see on the service than ever before. Instead of being presented with a single slab of unfiltered information they’re being given an organized, customizable interface that — you guessed it — mimics newspapers. (What, you’ve never bought a newspaper, thrown out the business section, and jumped straight to the comics?)

As I wrote in March:

Zuckerberg’s newspaper metaphor doesn’t work if you consider a newspaper to be nothing more than paper and ink. But if you think of the newspaper as the medium that allows people to build a sense of community, find out what is happening in the immediate world around them, and learn about the people they care about, it’s hard to think of Facebook as anything but a local paper.

Focusing on a curated approach that displays stories based on how interesting they might be to an individual user and allowing users to dig through their (and their friends’) online history makes that assertion more true than ever.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for PandoDaily]