Facebook’s Broken ‘Most Recent’: Bug or Feature?

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If you are a frequent user of Facebook, like we are, you may have discovered Facebook’s “broken” feature Most Recent. We use Facebook primarily as a curated news feature for our many projects, so this broken option has turned into a big annoyance. When we refresh our news feed, we want to see the most recent stories published by pages and shared by our friends. Facebook insists that we keep looking at the same thing, over and over again. Featured posts, based on their mysterious algorithm.

What is the Most Recent option in Facebook? It’s an option you can find in the upper left column next to your news feed. You can chose whether your feed displays Top Stories or Most Recent. Both of these options rely on Facebook’s algorithms for promoting and featuring content from pages you like, events, and posts from other friends and family.

The issue is that when you choose Most Recent, it doesn’t stay sticky. If you refresh your browser, it goes back to Top Stories. We know that this can’t be a browser issue or AJAX, Javascript or Flash issue, because this is an option that Facebook should be remembering. Because we’ve found that even if you switch browsers or even devices, your choice to view Most Recent doesn’t stay sticky.

We’ve done some research on this problem, searched for articles and blog posts about the problem and have been left scratching our heads. It’s unlikely that a bug like this would go unnoticed by a billion dollar company that runs a tight ship when it comes to UX and interfaces, so why doesn’t this option work? There are plenty of How To tutorials out there that explain how to use this feature, but the only official explanation from Facebook we’ve found is via an article published by Time magazine:

We don’t buy this. Facebook must have an internal reason for allowing such a prominent function of their service misfunction in such an annoying way. We have theories:

1. Facebook’s big emphasis over the last two years has been on featuring content from friends and family in users’ news feeds. It has even informed publishers and page owners that their content is a lower priority in feeds. Facebook has said that it wants to increase engagement between users, which they think is increased by more interaction between users. This may be aimed at a large segment of Facebook users, who infrequently use the service and rarely interact with other users. This may be related to our Theory #2.

The lowering of publisher and page content in user feeds also has another purpose: prompt page owners and publishers to buy advertising to bump their content higher in user news feeds. This is the primary form of monetization that Facebook is developing to build value for what is essentially a free service.

2. Facebook has been very noisy about its goal of becoming a dominant video platform. This is why it has been adding animated GIFs for commenting options, increasing the prominence of videos in feeds, integrating services like Snapchat and others, and much more. Facebook is like the other big media corporations in that its goal is to become THE Internet for most people. It wants your eyeballs to be parked as much as possible in their walled garden. Facebook has been developing original content as part of this push, which is very expensive. But it also needs more of those casual users, your Aunt Bettys, to use the service more. This is one reason behind changing the news feed algorithm to prioritize content, sharing and updates from friends and family. Facebook needs Aunt Betty to engage more time with the feed if it wants to normalize itself as the next generation video juggernaut.

3. In a weird way, the unstickiness of the Most Recent feed and changes to the UX of the update ticker (what your friends are doing in live time), seems designed to discourage heavy users. Are those of us constantly refreshing our feeds creating a power drain on Facebook’s infrastructure? Probably not, but it is a remote possibility.

4. This problem is even worse on the Facebook app for iPhone. The default setting for the Facebook app is Top Stories and the feed includes even less content that you haven’t seen. Facebook even had the Most Recent feed hidden in their menu options until the recent update that turned additional feeds, services and options into little circles. Most Recent is easier to find, but it is still de-emphasized, which underscores the overall mystery with this feature bug.

For a social media service used by billions around the world, the service is noticeably frugal when it comes to giving users and kind of options or customization. From a UX and design standpoint, it is good that they maintain a consistent look and avoid the design chaos that was the hallmark of the horrible Myspace platform. But if you offer you users a prominent option, why isn’t it sticky?