At first, it was somewhat original – 17 pictures of cats in hats, 30 things that will make your morning a better one, 10 things you should do by the time you turn 30…
None of these are actual posts, but if you’re a Facebook user, the format is at least familiar. Listicles like these, from sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy, have made an art form out of creating articles they know Facebook users will like and share, writes Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici. He’s called these “virality mills,” as their model for creating content is bent towards attracting users through tantalizing headlines and the promise of quick, entertaining posts.
Upworthy receives more than half of its traffic from Facebook, with about 87 million unique visitors checking it out in November, and Buzzfeed draws about one-third of its 133 million visitors from the same social networking site – so with the news that Facebook will be changing how its algorithm shows what appears in users’ news feeds, that could force these sites to rethink how they attract page views.
Facebook says it’s aiming to give users “high quality articles,” instead of just “the latest meme,” but some are speculating this is Facebook’s way of ensuring its users don’t get floods of content created especially to go viral. There’s also talk comparing the move to Google’s strategy in 2011, when the search giant set up an algorithm called “Panda” to improve the quality of its search results. Whole businesses known as “content farms,” like Demand Media, had been built around ensuring their pages were ranked near the top – yet the content was cheap and solely designed for users searching the Web.
While Facebook shied away from saying it was trying to target any sites in particular, Google said the same thing about Panda – and while Google estimated Panda would only affect about 10 to 20 per cent of its search results, when there are millions of views at stake, that’s huge. Facebook has said its changes will effect a 12 per cent impact.
One thing is for sure, Bercovici notes – publishers will be keeping a sharp eye on Facebook to see what it defines as “quality content.”
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Peter Kafka of All Things D also spoke to Facebook news feed product manager Lars Backstrom – check out that story here.