File Under: Social

New Facebook Features Show It’s Still Finding Its Real-Time Legs

Facebook has made two major changes to the way it displays real-time data about user activity on its platform — one for publishers to help track the spread viral content, and one change that affects how people see updates from their friends.

The site has enhanced its Share feature — the tiny “Share this on Facebook” widgets seen at the bottom of blog posts, videos and photos — to include live stats tracking. Starting Monday, publishers can see a live count of how many times a particular post or piece of media has been shared on Facebook.

The new live stats counter for Facebook Share closely mimics Tweetmeme‘s popular “Retweet” badges, or the live widgets that show the number of Diggs or up-votes on Reddit a piece of content has accumulated.

Facebook Share is getting some analytics tools, too. In addition to learning how many times Facebook users have shared a post, publishers can also see whenever somebody “likes” the shared post, leaves a comment, or clicks back to the original site from within Facebook.

It’s not the only tweak to Facebook’s real-time data flow the company has made to its site within the last few days.

On Friday, the Facebook home page for logged-in users was redesigned to show a filtered stream of updates. Rather than just showing a stream of every status update, every post and every “like” from within their network, Facebook users can now choose between a streamlined, filtered view and a raw, unfiltered view.

This change basically incorporates the old “Highlights” feed — the most important posts from your friends — into the main News Feed. The result is a stream of the most interesting or important stuff that’s been posted within the past couple of days.

click for largerThe new filtered News Feed is now the default. The more times a post is commented on or liked, the more “popular” it becomes. An algorithm determines what goes into the feed and what stays hidden. The old “Highlights” box is being removed, as it’s now redundant.

The Live Feed, which can be accessed by clicking on the new “Live Feed” tab at the top of the home page, gives a more immediate, Twitter-like stream. It displays all of the recent activity, posts and updates from you and your friends, regardless of popularity.

The odd thing here is that one of these changes brings Facebook up to speed with its competitors in the real-time content sharing game, while the other change sets it back.

Publishers want to know how their content is doing out in the wild, so the new Share tools make sense.

But in altering the News Feed in the way it has, Facebook actually becomes less of a real-time news source for its users. By adding popularity filters, important stuff might not bubble up into your News Feed for hours or days. I just looked at my News Feed, and the newest item is four hours old. If I really want to know what my friends are doing, reading, liking and talking about right now, I have to switch over to the Live Feed. Luckily, this is as easy as one mouse click.

But what does this say about the proliferation of real-time data streams on the web? Publishers always want better real-time data, but do users? Are regular people by and large tired of the massive firehose of updates their favorite sites now all offer? Is it all becoming just too much?

If so, Facebook made the right move with the News Feed changes. If not, hey, there’s always the Live Feed option one click away. Or there’s Twitter. And if you want a real-time stream you can filter even more minutely, you can turn to FriendFeed or Cliqset or Plaxo Pulse.

If the changes to Facebook’s stream bothers you — and judging from the comments of my own Facebook friends, the changes aren’t being seen as that friendly — they are easy to alter. Facebook Insider has an excellent post showing how to change your feed settings. Additional tips are in the comments.

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