I've not always been happy about the changes Facebook has made over the years, but I like its update of the News Feed, which the company announced and started rolling out this week.
The new News Feed is less cluttered and more graphically appealing. And it gives special prominence to photographs. The additional space being devoted to photos and video is an acknowledgement of how dramatically the composition of Facebook's content has changed during the past 16 months. About 50 percent of the posts on News Feed now include a photo or video, up from 25 percent in November 2011, according to Facebook's data.
I don't think Facebook has gone so far as to create a "personalized newspaper," as company CEO Mark Zuckerberg dubbed the new feed, and I worry about how Facebook will fit ads into the new design. But overall, it's a welcome refresh.
For Facebook users, the News Feed is essentially their home page on the site. It shows the latest updates from friends, posts from companies and organizations they've "liked," and pictures and links that friends have shared.
Over the years, that page has grown increasingly cluttered. As Facebook has become more popular, the number of friends in users' social networks has expanded and so, too, has the number of pages they've liked, resulting in what can be an overwhelming number of posts feeding into the News Feed.
Facebook has attempted to sort through the links, showing only those that are most important to users, but the News Feed still often looks like a cluttered list of updates, not much better than what you see on Twitter.
The update aims to clean this up and make it more appealing. Photographs appear to be twice as large as before. To devote more room to pictures, Facebook is now superimposing users' initial comments about the pictures on top of them.
But the News Feed is also devoting more room to other graphic elements, including videos, the thumbnail images that Facebook typically includes next to links to news stories, and maps, when someone shares his or her location.
Although Facebook's website remains one of the Internet's top destinations, there have been early signs that the social network is losing some of its pizazz, particularly among younger Web surfers who are starting to spend more time on other fraternizing hubs such as Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram, a photo-sharing site that Facebook bought for $521 million last summer.
A phenomenon known as "Facebook Fatigue" was recently documented in a report from the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project. The study found that about 61 percent of Facebook users had taken a hiatus for reasons that ranged from boredom to too much irrelevant information to Lent.
That's a worrisome trend for Facebook because the company needs to ensure that its audience members keep coming back so that it can learn more about their interests and, ultimately, sell more of the advertising that brings in most of the company's revenue.
"I don't think it had turned into a crisis, but Facebook was probably seeing some internal data that was telling them they needed to do something," said Greg Sterling, a senior analyst for Opus Research.