Facebook just dropped a big hint that the News Feed's days may be numbered

Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, center, with company employees.
  • Stories, which are short photo slideshows or collections of videos, are on track to overtake regular news feed posts as the most common form of social sharing across apps, company CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday.
  • Zuckerberg said this change will influence how the company builds products in the future.
  • The Stories format was pioneered by Facebook-rival Snapchat.

The writing may be on the wall for Facebook’s most iconic feature, the News Feed.

During Facebook’s fourth-quarter earnings call on Wednesday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg discussed how social media usage is evolving. For many people listening, one specific comment by Zuckerberg quickly attracted a lot of attention.

“We expect Stories are on track to overtake posts in Feed as the most common way that people share across all social apps,” Zuckerberg said.

InstagramInstagramUnlike the classic scrolling newsfeed, Stories are short-lived montages associated with a person’s profile.

Scrolling through the News Feed – the collection of photos, comments, and web links users see when they log into Facebook or open its app – has been the basic way users interact with the service for the past decade. Using it is as familiar as the keypad on a telephone. Even as Facebook has tinkered with the algorithms that decide what appears in the stream, the feed’s primacy within the social network has remained consistent and unchallenged.

Stories, by contrast, is a newer format for sharing videos and pictures on apps that’s more akin to a sequence or montage of clips that users stitch together. The images typically disappear after 24 hours.

The fact that Stories were first developed by archrival Snapchat does not seem to have turned off Facebook, which essentially copied the feature and incorporated it into all of its products over the last year. According to Zuckerberg, WhatsApp and Instagram are now the top two apps for sharing Stories worldwide.

Still, the fact that Zuckerberg sees Stories overtaking News Feed posts is a big deal and could have significant implications for the look of Facebook’s service and the stability of its advertising business going forward.

An abuse-proof format?

Zuckerberg’s comments about Stories do not come in a vacuum. They come as Facebook is trying to respond to criticism that its service has been easily hijacked to spread misinformation and that it induces kids and others to overuse its social network. It’s possible Zuckerberg sees Stories as a feature that’s less prone to abuse than the News Feed.

If Facebook does shift its design focus from the Feed to Stories, it’s likely to do it in communications products such as Instagram and WhatsApp first. Those products both have younger user bases that may be more amenable to Stories. And rolling out changes on those services would pose less risk to Facebook’s ad business, which currently relies largely on marketers pushing ads into the News Feed.

But don’t underestimate Facebook’s potential to dump the News Feed on its main service and app. The company has prided itself on being nimble enough to “move fast,” and it’s proven capable of doing so.

In 2012, the company completely overhauled its ad business, moving away from ads that ran on the right side of its web page when viewed in a browser on a desktop computer. In their place, the company created mobile-friendly ads that it incorporated into the News Feed. Today, mobile ads account for 89% of Facebook’s ad revenue. The rise of Stories could be the company’s next big story.

Here are Zuckerberg’s full comments about Stories from the the company’s earnings call:

“Another important shift that we’re seeing across the industry is the growth of Stories. We expect Stories are on track to overtake posts in Feed as the most common way that people share across all social apps. That’s because Stories is a better format for sharing multiple quick video clips throughout your day.

The growth of Stories will have an impact on how we build products and think about our business, including WhatsApp and Instagram, which are the No. 1 and No. 2 most used Stories products in the world.”

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