Facebook Director Jocelyn Goldfein in Techfest on newsfeed

FacebookTechfest1

Techfest 2013 running on 3-5 Jan at IIT Mumbai has an excellent lecture series. Since I work at Justdial Malad West, I had to travel 16 kms to catch this lecture. I don’t regret a bit, as I got insights into the product management best practices behind world’s most engaged user base, if not in terms of number (which is held by Google of course).

Introduction

Jocelyn Goldfein is Director of Engineering at Facebook for 2 1/2 years. She looks after Newsfeed, yes the single most used and landmark feature of Facebook, Photos,Videos, Search and Questions.

Background

In the summer, 2010, Newsfeed was being used by over 1/2 Billion users of Facebook, because it was default way of interacting/content consumption. So, even contemplating changing it requires certain hubris or arrogance. But, Change at Facebook is often rapid, disruptive and not always appealing to users, but that is the only constant. Now, there is Zuckerber’s law, which is at play along similar lines of Moore’s law in semiconductor industry.

I would expect that next year, people will share twice as much information as they share this year, and next year, they will be sharing twice as much as they did the year before.

Another important development was the introduction of Like button in May, 2010. There were 3 fundamental tensions at work during the evolution of Newsfeed.

  1. Determinism vs Magic
  2. Freshness vs Staleness
  3. Consumption vs Interaction

New stories were drowning old interesting stories in default reverse chronological feed display. So, Newsfeed – the aggregation of activities and updates in a user’s homepage needed to evolve and change. Over the course of 1 1/2 years, spanning 122 design mock-ups, a peak engineering team of 25 and 3 major prototypes, the newsfeed evolved leading to the launch in spring 2011.

Product Development

  • The product development at Facebook follows the following methodology, stages:

Polished Ideas

Launchable  Ideas                                                Big Ideas

  • There are a lot of live test, which they do.
  • A product is improved and launched multiple times.
  • The development work is only half-done at the launch. They continue to monitor how users are using the feature and use that to improve the experience.

Inputs to Launchable idea can be from a hackathon, a product manager’s research, an engineer or even an intern. The genesis of new Newsfeed lay in the Realtime Feed and Live Ticker prototype by a new engineer in Summer 2010. They go on to build an inspirational mockup around Cluster. The idea is to coalesce checkins, status update, photos, invitation around say birthday. They built a new infrastructure for the same: Feed Story. It allows newsfeed to pull signal from noise. You can group friends talking about same topic. The technology behind it was Topic clustering originally developed for Question based on NLP (Natural Language Processing). It was used to pose questions to relevant people, but wasn’t successful over there. I really like the idea of re-use of technology from a different product. But, the audience for

2 Newspaper and MLEs

A typical user has 150 friends, so birthdays, marriage etc life events in a typical month are a lot and they are interesting for a user. The new infrastructure behind this is Feed Ranking.

3 Launchable idea Boulder Feed

Now they try to have best of both worlds on all 3 parameters specified at the beginning. A newsfeed and a deterministic Ticker. Facebook employees start using deep integration of apps like spotify and they see clustering being used to group all songs a user listened instead of a separate feed for each song. On Nov 9, 2011 they launched it. There were a lot of protests.

BringBackOldFacebook

They re-iterated and changed again. That will be a future blog post.

vNext

This is not final Newsfeed. There will be changes to it, maybe 3rd party content integration etc. At 1B users, it will be more challenging that 2010, when they undertook this redesign. We are waiting Ms Goldfein/Mark!

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About prasoonk

Prasoon Kumar grew up in the Bokaro Steel City of south Bihar, now Jharkhand. He studied Computer Science and Engineering in IIT Kanpur. For job he moved to the land of opportunity, United States. He was there in the bay area through the internet revolution of mid to late nineties. He spent time admiring the beautiful coastline of California among other things. He moved east coast to the New York after the turn of the millennium working in a brokerage startup. Afterwards, he is back to India for good. He has been working in the enterprises and internet startup, enjoying the city life. He has a beautiful wife, a young 5 years old daughter and 11 years old son.

Posted on January 4, 2013, in IIT, mobile, Web, web 2.0 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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