Photo: Jolie Odell
Facebook is holding a mysterious press conference on Tuesday. There are many conflicting reports about what’s going to be announced.
(Some of them from the same publications..
We don’t know what’s coming Tuesday.
But, thanks to a source who has been given briefings at Facebook, we do know about one secret project Facebook is working on.
It’s being led by one of the colleagues whom Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg trusts most, VP of products Chris Cox.
Cox earned Zuckerberg’s trust the hard way.
He joined Facebook as an engineer in 2005 and helped build the product that is now the site’s backbone—the “News Feed.”
Then, in 2008, after period in which Facebook lost several key employees and lost out on hiring several high-profile new ones, Zuckerberg asked Cox to shore up Facebook’s human resources division.
Leading that group, Cox defined Facebook’s mission and turned Facebook from a place that, despite its red-hot hype, failed to land the top talent into one that regularly poached from Yahoo, Google and LinkedIn.
For a year or so now, Cox has been back on the product side of the company, overseeing the product managers team, the user-experience team, and the design team as VP of Product.
Now, Zuckerberg has asked Cox to take on a huge new mission: to re-invent the way the world’s information gets distributed.
Cox is head of a group at Facebook that is casually called “Info D”—short for “information distribution.”
According to a source briefed on Info D’s ambitions, the vision behind the group is turn the Facebook News Feed into “a kind of Information Distribution hub for the entire Internet.”
In many ways that’s what the News Feed already is—a place users go to get the latest news and content from the world, as shared by their friends.
There are two big differences between what the News Feed is doing now, and what Cox is turning it into.
Difference Number One: News Feed will know more about you.
Right now, the items that show up in your News Feed go there because they have a lot of comments or likes, were posted by someone you care about, and are relatively new. This algorithm is called Edge Rank.
Cox is working on building a News Feed that will know a lot more about the user looking at it, and will use this information to determine what it shows.
Our source says the goal is for the News Feed to be “running a query” all the time: “What should [the user] care about” based on that user’s friends, purchase history, Web history, location, and much more.
Another way to look at it: Smartphones, tablets, wearable computers, and smart TVs are able to collect a lot of data about their users. Cox is working on aggregating all of that to build a smarter News Feed.
Difference Number Two: News Feed will pull content from more sources, more directly
Right now, one of the biggest sources of content for the News Feed are Facebook Pages created by content sites, celebrities, or brands.
Cox and his team are figuring out if they can do away with some or all of these Pages. Their view is that for content publishers in particular, Pages are an unnecessary bottleneck between content creation and content consumption from the News Feed.
Instead of asking publishers to create and maintain Facebook Pages, one of Info D’s missions is to come up with ways publishers can redesign their own Websites and apps to work more like Pages work now—with all of Facebook’s social and sharing functions built in.
Our source says Cox’s message to publishers will be: “As long as you format your page correctly, we’ll show it to the people who will click on it.”
Doing away with Pages isn’t the only change to inputs Cox and Info D are considering.
We’ve already read about how Facebook wants to the News Feed to facilitate better music discovery for users.
You can assume that Facebook also wants its News Feed to be a place people discover video to watch from the couch and things to buy online, or, through mobile, in person.
Closing The Loop
The mission Zuckerberg has given Cox and his team, Info D, is not about having Facebook users read news, watch TV, buy things, or listen to music in the News Feed on Facebook.com (or in a Facebook app).
The goal is for Facebook’s juiced up Edge Rank to push those things at users in the News Feed, and for users to leave Facebook.com to consume them.
The reason why Facebook is OK with this, according to our source, is that eventually, it would like to play a larger role in helping other sites and apps make money from ads, perhaps through an ad network.
(There’s been reporting that Facebook has paused its plans to launch an ad network, as it figures out how to monetise its own site better in the short term. But make no mistake, Facebook plans to help other apps and Websites monetise eventually.)
Facebook declined to comment on this story.
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