EdgeRank Is Dead: Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm Now Has Close To 100K Weight Factors

The next time you tell a client how Facebook selects and ranks the content that shows up in the News Feed, you’ll need to do it without using the word EdgeRank.

EdgeRank, Facebook’s original News Feed ranking system, is dead.

Facebook hasn’t used the word internally for about two-and-a-half years. That’s when the company began employing a more complex ranking algorithm based on machine learning. The current News Feed algorithm doesn’t have a catchy name, but it’s clear from talking to the company’s engineers that EdgeRank is a thing of the past.

During a phone call this week, Lars Backstrom, Engineering Manager for News Feed Ranking at Facebook, estimated that there are as many as “100,000 individual weights in the model that produces News Feed.” The three original EdgeRank elements — Affinity, Weight and Time Decay — are still factors in News Feed ranking, but “other things are equally important,” he says.

In other words, the News Feed algorithm of today is much more sophisticated than just a couple years ago.

“The easiest analogy is to search engines and how they rank web pages,” Backstrom says. “It’s like comparing the Google of today with Alta Vista. Both Google and Bing have a lot of new signals, like personalization, that they use. It’s more sophisticated than the early days of search, when the words on a page were the most important thing.”

This has implications for marketers and business owners far beyond the wording used to describe News Feed rankings. It’s a reflection — and a cause, too — of today’s complex battle to reach Facebook users organically.

The winners? They’ll be the ones who understand how Facebook has moved past Affinity, Weight and Time Decay, and move past it themselves. Before we get into today’s News Feed algorithm, let’s go back a few years.

knobs

In The Beginning It Was … Turning Knobs

Facebook’s News Feed was born in September 2006, promising to provide … and I quote … “a personalized list of news stories throughout the day, so you’ll know when Mark adds Britney Spears to his Favorites or when your crush is single again.”

Yep, that’s a direct quote from the announcement. Cute, huh?

With the launch of News Feed, Facebook wanted to show users the most important content from their social network without making them click to visit their friends’ profiles. And it had to figure out a way to decide what was important to each person.

“In the beginning, News Feed ranking was turning knobs,” said Facebook VP of Product Chris Cox during Facebook’s recent News Feed media event. “Turn up photos a little bit, turn down platform stories a little bit.”

Cox gave a funny account of how he and a co-worker sat in Facebook’s offices and changed the ranking “knobs” based on feedback from users — feedback in the form of often angry emails and conversations with users outside the Facebook office.

Times were much simpler then.

From Knobs To EdgeRank

Facebook has obviously grown up a lot since then, particularly with the simultaneous launch of Facebook Ads and Pages in November 2007.

Businesses, clubs, and organizations began creating Facebook Pages and using them to try to reach existing and new fans. That meant more content and more chances for users’ News Feeds to get crowded and unwieldy.

The company advanced from “turning knobs” to EdgeRank, the algorithm that a) determined which of the thousands of stories (or “edges” as Facebook called them) qualified to show up in a user’s News Feed, and b) ranked them for display purposes. EdgeRank had three primary pieces:

  • Affinity — i.e., how close is the relationship between the user and the content/source?
  • Weight — i.e., what type of action was taken on the content?
  • Decay — i.e., how recent/current is the content?

EdgeRank made it possible for Facebook to give users a more personalized NewsFeed. As Cox explained, users that played a lot of games on Facebook could see more game-related content in their News Feed. Users that took part in a lot of Group discussions would see more content like that. And so forth.

From EdgeRank To… ?

With EdgeRank, the way you used Facebook largely determined what showed up in your News Feed. And it still does because, as Cox said last week, “We’re in the business of giving our users the most interesting possible experience every time they visit.”

But now that job is a lot more complicated than ever.

Consider that there are more than a billion people using Facebook each month. And 128 million in the U.S. that use Facebook every day. They’re using dozens of different mobile devices with different capabilities for displaying content. There are 18 million Pages, many of which are actively looking for attention and a way to show up the News Feed as often as possible. And that number doesn’t include the numerous businesses that are using Facebook via regular accounts rather than Pages.

With all of that going on, Facebook says that the typical user has about 1,500 stories that could show in the News Feed on every visit.

So how does Facebook decide what users see, and what content from Facebook Pages make it into the News Feed? As you can imagine, Facebook isn’t about to give away all the details, but Backstrom did talk openly about several ways that the algorithm has grown up in recent years.

Affinity, Weight & Time Decay

These are “still important,” Backstrom says, but there are now multiple weight levels. “There are a lot of different facets. We have categories and sub-categories of affinity.”

Facebook is attempting to measure how close each user is to friends and Pages, but that measurement isn’t just based on personal interactions. Backstrom says Facebook looks at global interactions, too, and those can outweigh personal interactions if the signal is strong enough.

“For example, if we show an update to 100 users, but only a couple of them interact with it, we may not show it in your News Feed. But if a lot of people are interacting with it, we might decide to show it to you, too.”

Relationship Settings

Another factor is the relationship settings that Facebook users can apply. With each friend, you can go a step further and label the person a “close friend” or “acquaintance.” With liked Pages, users can choose to “Get notifications” or “Receive updates,” and there are deeper settings to control what kind of content the user wants to see.

facebook-settings

“We try to extract affinity naturally,” Backstrom says, “but if you go to the trouble to tell us more about your relationships, we will factor that in.”

Post Types

The News Feed algorithm takes into account the type of posts that each user tends to like. Users that often interact with photo posts are more likely to see more photo posts in the News Feed, and users that tend to click more on links will see more posts with links.

Backstrom says this is also applied on a deeper level. “It’s not just about global interactions. We also look at what types of posts you interact with the most from each friend.”

In other words, Facebook Page owners that continually publish one type of post are likely not having those posts seen by fans that interact with other types of posts.

Hide Post / Spam Reporting

News Feed visibility can also be impacted by users’ ability to hide posts or mark them as spam. But it’s not as simple as having a set threshold that will cause posts to stop showing in users’ News Feeds.

“For every story, we do the same computation,” Backstrom explains. “Given this story, and given the user’s history, what’s the probability that you’ll like this story? What’s the probably that you’ll hide it? We’re looking at this and trying to decide, is it a net positive to show this story in the News Feed?”

Further, Backstrom says there’s an element of decay when considering posts that have been hidden. Recent “hides” may carry more weight when deciding if a post shows in the News Feed, but those “hides” will have less impact as they decay over time.

Clicking On Ads, Viewing Other Timelines

The News Feed algorithm is completely separate from the algorithm that decides what ads to show, when to show ads, and where to show them. But how a user interacts with Facebook ads can influence what shows in the News Feed.

“Nothing is off the table when we’re looking at what we should show users,” Backstrom says. “It can be clicking on ads or looking at other timelines. It doesn’t have to be just what the user interacts with in the News Feed.”

Device & Technical Considerations

Yep, the News Feed algorithm even considers what device is being used and things like the speed of a user’s internet connection when deciding what to show.

“The technical limitations of some old feature phones make it impossible to show some content,” Backstrom. “We also know that some content doesn’t perform as well with Facebook users on certain devices. And if the user has a slow internet connection, we may show more text updates. We’re trying to show users content that they’ll find interesting and want to interact with.”

Story Bumping & Last Actor

Don’t forget these two changes that Facebook just announced last week. Story Bumping bends the “decay” rules by giving older, unseen posts a second chance at News Feed visibility if they’re still getting interaction.

Last Actor puts a premium on recency. Facebook is tracking a user’s most recent 50 interactions and giving them more weight when deciding what to show in the News Feed. This works on a rolling basis, so the value of an interaction will decline after the user has made 50 more recent interactions.

Final Thoughts

It should be clear that Facebook’s News Feed algorithm has developed significantly over the past few years. EdgeRank is a thing of the past, and it’s been replaced by a machine learning-based algorithm that, as Backstrom says, “only ever gets more complicated.”

That poses new challenges for brands and marketers hoping to get attention on Facebook, but the company says its advice to Page owners and others is the same: Create and publish and a variety of interesting content that will attract shares, comments, likes and clicks. That requires understanding your Facebook fans — from the types of posts they interact with to the different devices they might be using when they’re on Facebook.

We’ll keep reporting on Facebook’s News Feed changes, and our contributing writers will keep sharing tips and advice, too. You might also keep an eye on the new Facebook for Business news page because the company has promised to be more open in the future about changes that affect how the News Feed works.

(Stock images via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)

Related Topics: Channel: Social Media Marketing | Facebook | Facebook: News Feed | Facebook: Pages | Features & Analysis | Social Media Marketing | Top News

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Marketing Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • Pat Grady

    Finally, a Big Data story that isn’t nonsense.

  • http://www.keshkesh.com/ Takeshi Young

    So EdgeRank isn’t dead, it’s just been augmented by other factors. Link bait title.

  • Matt McGee

    Facebook stopped using the name EdgeRank more than two years ago. It’s dead. When they see articles talking about EdgeRank, they say to themselves “That doesn’t exist anymore.”

  • http://www.keshkesh.com/ Takeshi Young

    “EdgeRank had three primary pieces: Affinity, Weight, Time Decay”

    Next paragraph:

    “Affinity, Weight, Time Decay– These are ‘still important,’ Backstrom says, but there are now multiple weight levels.”

    A rose by any other name?

  • Matt McGee

    Abraham Lincoln is dead. But freedom from slavery is still important, right?

  • http://www.keshkesh.com/ Takeshi Young

    Yes, way to bring race into the discussion. Bravo.

    All the factors that were a part of EdgeRank are still important today, Facebook engineers just decided to change the name of their algorithm.

    Saying that EdgeRank is dead is misleading, whereas Abraham Lincoln is very much dead. And I am enjoying my freedom, thank you very much.

  • Monish Datta

    Wow. That is one awful analogy.

  • Sam Mazaheri

    So 3 simple factors became 100k individual weights. I don’t feel cheated by the title. RIP EdgeRank

  • travisbernard

    Great article!

  • Erik Lodge

    Something has to die every week, or it’s not a good story. Might be PageRank, might be SEO, might link building. This week it’s EdgeRank.

  • http://www.vipcases.co.uk/ VIP Cases

    OK I can finally comment on a post with some authority. Why? Because I have a page with over 1 million fans.

    Over the past 2 years the changes to my posts virility has been very interesting. There is actually a way to post on fan pages that gets round the whole algo but I am sure that will change shortly.

  • Matt McGee

    There was no attempt to “bring race into the discussion.” My point is that something can die, yet the things that it represented could still be important.

    Takeshi – are you African-American? If so, I can understand why you’d take offense to my analogy. And I’m sorry.

    (I write my comments from our comment admin system, where avatars are really tiny and I’m blind to them from seeing so many comments every day between here and Search Engine Land.)

    Back to the discussion, as I said above, Facebook itself stopped using the term 2.5 years ago and they say it doesn’t exist anymore. It’s dead. EdgeRank was what they used before the algorithm switched to a machine-learning system. If you feel otherwise, that’s fine, but we’ll have to agree to disagree over the terminology.

  • http://pervarakapadiaatmoney.blogspot.com/ Pervara Kapadia

    Thanks for sharing this

  • Armando Vieira

    The problem with the Facebook approach to newsfeed personalization it precisely the lack of personalization it has in it. There are very parameters to choose from what would like to see, no intelligence in it to filter topics of interess (like Zite does, for instance). Once you start interacting with a bunch of friend you are locked in: only their post pop-up…

  • Spook SEO

    Hey Matt, this is GINORMOUS news!

    Considering how marketers are constantly barking SEO is dead and focusing on social media, there’s no doubt that tons of business’s will be affected by how the algo for Facebook has changed.

    Facebook’s finally upped their game! Why do I get the feeling that the future of SEO is social search…

    Awesome post Matt!

  • http://www.brandlovellc.wordpress.com/ Lisa Dougherty

    Interesting article and thought provoking discussion. Well done on the title. Intriguing enough for me to open up the article. Don’t really care if it is a tad misleading if the content is of value. Bravo.

  • http://disqus.com/ Sam Parker

    Doesn’t the ability to explicitly define the level of relationship for a friend give the user this kind of control?

  • David Zabowski

    Sort of. It is still defined by your relationship with the people, not with or by the content. Content recommendation needs to include both to be socially and personally relevant. I’d love to understand how much influence the content has on the algorithm compared to other content, or my relationships with people, especially people in various groups. Much of the content I happen to enjoy is typically recommended by people I don’t know, but whose point of view I really enjoy. They aren’t even necessarily part of my Facebook graph other than in the remotest possible sense.

  • Harsh Ajmera

    What dead? And when they see articles talking about Edgerank, they say “We never called it that”.

    Factors what Facebook agreed for News Feed was already there in market, they just didn’t gave a name to it. And to keep it complicated and confusing they cannot tell you all the factors of the algorithm

    Thanks
    Harsh
    Digital Insights

  • ajay

    lets see how much this facebook algo works
    Website Development Company in Delhi

  • Myerstown Sheds & Fencing

    EdgeRank as we know it, is dead. There’s no reason to argue, guys ;)

  • http://www.postplanner.com/ Scott Ayres

    In reality though “Edgrank” just became the commonly referred to name of the “Facebook news feed algorithm” it’s easier to say and I think people, namely marketers, will continue to use it to refer to algorithm. And that’s fine.

  • Elena Stanciu

    What would you recommend to a page owner nowadays: sign up for Edge Rank Checker or not? Is the data they provide still useful or is money thrown out of the window?

  • Mary

    The problem I find is that I don’t get many stories through after facebook’s had it’s way. I get between 5 and 10 posts an hour in my news feed – I’m sure my friends are more active than that. There are people I would love to see posts from who I’ve almost forgotten exist because facebook chooses to never show me. How can we interact with people if we never see their posts?

  • Maruthi Gowda

    Love your post and understood – Facebook increasingly prioritizing updates from close friends and family more than others. I happened to be helped by this ow.ly/q2WNy that says – This is its predictive analytics alrogithms at play, guessing which stories you’d be most interested in based on who you speak.

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