Google threw down the social-media gauntlet when it opened Google+ to the masses this week. But Facebook appears to be working overtime to tweak its social network in response to the high-profile competition.
In its latest round of changes, Facebook has tinkered with the News Feed and added a Ticker. The new additions come just days after Facebook introduced the Subscribe button and the new Friend Lists.
Complicating the News Feed
"When you pick up a newspaper after not reading it for a week, the front page quickly clues you into the most interesting stories. In the past, News Feed hasn't worked like that. Updates slide down in chronological order so it's tough to zero in on what matters most," said Facebook Engineering Manager Mark Tonkelowitz, in a Facebook post. "Now, News Feed will act more like your own personal newspaper."
With the newfangled News Feed, Tonkelowitz said you won't have to worry about missing important information. That's because all of your news will be in a single stream with the most interesting stories featured at the top. One question is: who decides which are the most interesting stories?
"If you haven't visited Facebook for a while, the first things you'll see are top photos and statuses posted while you've been away. They're marked with an easy-to-spot blue corner," Tonkelowitz said. "If you check Facebook more frequently, you'll see the most recent stories first.
"Photos will also be bigger and easier to enjoy while you're scrolling through."
Meanwhile, the Ticker aims to help you join your friends in real-time. Tonkelowitz said the Ticker shows you the same information you were already seeing on Facebook, but it brings your conversations to life by displaying updates instantaneously.
"Now when a friend comments, asks a question or shares something like a check in, you'll be able to join the conversation right away," he said. "Click on anything in Ticker to see the full story and chime in -- without losing your place."
No Mass Exodus
Will Facebook's changes ward off Google+ erosion? Facebook may not have needed to do much, actually.
"There's evidence that Google+'s early rapid growth has cooled," said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence. "The mainstreaming of Google+ will require regular feature upgrades and the integration of Google+ into a range of other Google products, which the company is starting to do."
For its part, Facebook has been rolling out new features or improvements over the past few weeks in an effort to address long-standing complaints or requests, Sterling said, however those changes are broadly designed to blunt Google+'s growth as a viable alternative.
"In the end it's not about specific features so much as 'where the party is.' People want to be where their friends, family and colleagues are," Sterling said. "Any substantial transfer of usage from Facebook to Google+ would be of enormous concern for Facebook as the beginning of an 'exodus.' However, there's no evidence that such a transfer is happening other than for a comparatively small group of people."