media update's Adam Wakefield unpacks these developments and why they are important.

Facebook decides to not split its News Feed into two

The news: Facebook announced that it is has abandoned the idea of splitting its News Feed into two.

Why does it matter? Facebook has been experimenting with the split News Feed since October 2017 in selected small markets, such as Sri Lanka, Serbia, Guatemala, and Bolivia. On Thursday, 1 March, the media company announced it was no longer experimenting with the split News Feed in these markets.

Facebook had stated that the experiment was to realign the platform back to its original purpose of connecting friends and family. Adam Mosseri, Facebook's head of News Feed, stated in the companies March announcement that the "Explore Feed was a trial response to consistent feedback we received from people over the past year who said they want to see more from friends and family in News Feed".

After the six-country trial, Mosseri said, "You gave us our answer: People don't want two separate feeds. In surveys, people told us they were less satisfied with the posts they were seeing, and having two separate feeds didn't actually help them connect more with friends and family."

In abandoning the split feed experiment, Facebook said it was not necessary to split the feed because changes in the algorithm that dictates what a person does and does not see on their News Feed would prioritise posts from family and friends. The change would see a 20% reduction in news articles featuring on a person’s news feed.

Further, splitting the News Feed had the unintended consequences of significantly killing web traffic to publishers that published their work on Facebook. It also undermined the fight against fake news, since publishers seeking to correct false reports or fake news could not post corrections on the primary News Feed.

The abandonment of the experiment does beg the question why Facebook conducted the experiment in the first place if they could just make changes to the algorithm.

Facebook allows publishers to add Breaking News their posts

The news: Facebook is enabling publishers to label Breaking News on their platform.

Why does it matter? It offers publishers a new way to label content and reach users.

Earlier this year, Facebook committed itself to showing higher quality news on the platform and, according to product manager Joey Rhyu, getting a clear signal on what stories are breaking news can help. 

"We've been running a test in the United States lets a small group of local and national publishers identify and label Breaking News. Starting this week, we will expand the test so that more than 50 publishers in North America, Latin America, Europe, and Australia will be able to label their stories as Breaking News on Facebook. If the expansion is successful, we may add more publishers," Rhyu said.

Publishers will be able to label Instant Articles, mobile and web links, and Facebook Live as Breaking News. They can use the indicator once a day, setting how long the story is marked as Breaking News for up to six hours. Publishers will also have an extra pool of five indicators per a month.

Data between Monday, 8 December and Sunday, 14 January,  showed that posts carrying the Breaking News label saw a 4% clickthrough rate increase, 7% rise in likes, 4% rise in comments, and 11% rise in shares.

Instagram is preparing to launch a Video Call and Call button

The news: Instagram appears to be preparing to add a Video Call and Call button.

Why does it matter? Instagram does not just want to be your camera, but your phone too. How do we know this? Lurking inside Instagram's Direct Android Application Packages (APKs in short) are files and icons for Call and Video Call.

APKs often show files for unreleased versions of a product that lies dormant until acted upon. So, based on the assumption that these icons and files are there for a purpose, it appears that you will soon be able to do calls and video-calls from Instagram. It adds yet another app in Facebook's stable, along with Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, where people will be able to communicate with one another via video.

It appears the goal of this latest change is to attract more Snapchat users to switch to Instagram and if Instagram users are willing to use the coming “Call” and “Video Call” features, there is a good chance they would also use the app’s other features.

YouTube is testing a green screen feature

The news: YouTube is testing a new feature that uses AI and machine learning to replace video background images.

Why does it matter? Google engineers have developed a tool that uses AI and machine learning to filter and replace the background of videos, which is what green screen technology does today.

The company calls it mobile real-time video segmentation, and it is available on YouTube via limited beta stories. Google says that the new technology allows content creators to replace and modify the background, “effortlessly increasing video production value without specialised equipment”.

It might appear to be a relatively minor change on the surface, but being able to change the background of videos has very important ethical implications, depending on what content is being projected. From a journalism point of view, journalists could, in a worst-case scenario, be able to manipulate the backgrounds of videos to paint a particular picture, or to state they are on scene when they are in fact not.

Another danger is such technology can be used to create a new layer of fake news where the target of an attack is placed in a situation they were not present in at all. While the creative possibilities of this change are the democratisation of green screen technology, the negative consequences can be profound. It is hoped following the fakes news storms of 2016 and 2017 that YouTube and other platforms have considered the impact of the changes they make.

From another perspective, this change further underlines the looming importance of both virtual reality and augmented reality. The technology may be new, but it is one to watch in the upcoming months.

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Need another recap of what's been happening in the world of social media? Read more in our article, Social media news you missed: More Snapchat Analytics and Facebook's updated formats.

*Image courtesy of Freepik