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Facebook front page gets a sweeping face lift

The redesigned News Feed gives users more control over the updates they see and a splashy new design that's easier to use on the go. It will also give advertisers a more prominent display.

March 08, 2013|By Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times
  • Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive and founder of Facebook Inc., announces a redesign of the Facebook front page Thursday.
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive and founder of Facebook Inc., announces… (David Paul Morris, Bloomberg )

MENLO PARK, Calif. — For some users, Facebook's front page used to grab their attention with the latest news from friends but had become a jumbled morass of random updates and photos. Their attention had increasingly begun to wander to shiny new offerings from Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat.

Now Facebook is hoping to get people to stick around with a sweeping face lift to its most popular feature: News Feed, the steady stream of updates that users see when they log on to the social network.

On Thursday, Facebook unveiled a redesigned News Feed that it says will offer its billion-plus users more control over the updates they see and a splashy new design that's easier to use on the go.

It was the biggest change to the look and feel of News Feed since it launched in 2006, and analysts say it was long overdue.

"We believe Facebook's redesigned News Feed feature could help improve user engagement and ultimately monetization," Sterne Agee & Leach analyst Arvind Bhatia said.

It's a high-stakes gambit. Facebook, which has had a rough go of it as a publicly traded company, must show investors it can make itself an indispensable part of people's everyday lives and advertisers' budgets.

Despite being one of the Internet's top destinations, Facebook is under scrutiny from uneasy investors who are keeping tabs on reports that suggest some users have begun to suffer "Facebook fatigue." A Pew survey last month found that 61% of Facebook users say they have taken a break from using the service for several weeks or more.

The average Facebook user on a personal computer spends about six hours a month on the site, whereas mobile users spend nearly 12 hours on the Facebook app, according to research firm ComScore Inc.

Facebook needs to keep its audience engaged — and it needs to continue to grow that audience — to sell more advertising, which brings in most of the company's revenue, analysts said.

Its calculation with the News Feed redesign: Users will spend more time on Facebook if they can easily find the content they want, and that increased activity will in turn entice advertisers to spend more money there.

The redesign will give advertisers larger, more prominent display space in the News Feed, although Facebook did not show what those ads would look like.

Facebook is working to regain the confidence of investors after last year's disastrous initial public stock offering, which was undermined by concerns over its long-term growth prospects. Facebook shares closed up 4.1% at $28.58 on Thursday, still far off their IPO price of $38.

Analysts viewed the redesign in a positive light. It came a month after Facebook debuted a social search feature it calls "graph search," designed to make it easier for users to discover content on the social network.

With the redesign, users will be able to see only what matters to them: updates from close friends, the most recent updates or updates only about games, sports or music. Switch to "photo view," and that's all that will be visible, a look that mimics Instagram, the photo-sharing application that Facebook bought last year.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg encouraged Facebook users to think about News Feed as their own personal newspaper tailored to their interests and to their friends'.

"This is the evolving face of News Feed," Zuckerberg said at a news conference at the company's headquarters here.

The more appealing design is made for mobile devices with larger photographs and more videos. It began appearing on personal computers Thursday and will roll out to mobile devices in coming weeks as the company gets feedback and works out kinks.

"We're going to be very careful about how we roll it out," said Chris Cox, Facebook's vice president of product.

jessica.guynn@latimes.com

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