Facebook News Feed algorithm to track how long users spend reading stories

Tweak is an attempt to make important stories that don’t get shared show up in the news feed, network claims

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The Independent Tech

Facebook has tweaked its news feed so that stories that users read for longer — but don’t necessarily share, like or comment on — will show up higher.

The app will now watch for when people spend “significantly more time on a particular story in News Feed than the majority of other stories they look at”, and promote that up the news feed. It is an attempt to promote things that don’t necessarily get shared, the site said.

The algorithm that chooses what shows up in Facebook’s timeline has historically relied on liking, commenting and sharing among other factors. But research showed that users were seeing meaningful stories on the site but didn’t necessarily feel they could like or comment on it — such as information about a serious current event — and that should be promoted higher up.

In a blog post outlining the changes, Facebook software engineers pointed out that a user might be flicking through their feed and like a photo of a graduation, share a funny picture, but then dwell over a long post by someone detailing a recent trip. The fact that a user read the story in didn’t count in the news feed’s calculation, so the first two activities would be promoted higher — but now they will.

The site said that it will compare the reading time with normal, so that the effect of a slow connection or a slower reading speed won’t lead to things showing up when they shouldn’t.

The site is rolling the change out already and will continue to do so in the coming weeks. Stories from Facebook Pages won’t see a significant hit to their traffic, the site said.