John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, and now at

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Can you tell 'live' from 'news'? Facebook can't

Motoring along the highway or creeping down a city street, I cringe at the sight of a “PROGRESS AHEAD” sign, knowing full well that it means that the roadway has been torn up and I will be jockeying for position with lunatics.

Yesterday, it appears, Facebook put into effect a redesigned home page for members, with a “live feed” and a “news feed.” It seems to be the case that the “news feed” will include items that Facebook has concluded would be of interest to me, while the “live feed” will list all my friends’ activities.

How do I know this? From an article on the changeover in, which Jack Mulkey thoughtfully put up on his news feed. Facebook gave me no information. Or perhaps Facebook did publish some announcement to readers; but it was not anywhere that I saw, and Facebook is so chaotically organized and its search function so pathetically useless that I probably could not have found the announcement had I known to look for it.

These are the consequences of the double feed. I have to look in two places to make sure that I haven’t missed anything. And since the “live” and “news” categories have some obvious overlap, I get to see some of the same posts in two different places. Oh yeah, and the chronology is all gummed up, with my news feeds listed in this order: an hour ago, 6:27 p.m. yesterday, 11:37 p.m. yesterday, 11 hours ago, 4 hours ago [emphasis added].

When I see Internet enthusiasts scorn newspapers for their arbitrary redesigns that disconcert readers, for their lack of transparency in informing their audience what they are doing, or for their ineptly designed Web sites that make navigation troublesome, I think of Facebook and curl my lip in bitter scorn.


  1. Thanks for the explanation. I thought it was just me. This is a really stupid change, by the way. (Not blamin'; just sayin'!)

    Anne in Wisconsin

  2. They've labeled them in French as, roughly translated, "News Feed" and "Live News", making their separate purposes even less obvious.

    I would have been much more appreciative if they had separated the quizzes, Farmville, etc., out from the truly interesting (relatively speaking) content. Alas.


  3. Facebook changes have, since the site's inception, been erratic and unexpected. And mostly hated. I am sticking to the "live feed," which is closest to the older version. Also, has (or at least had when i last checked) some (brief) info on the change.

  4. Completely agree.
    And Facebook does this every redesign, they fix a few problems broken from the last update, but only create larger problems.
    Just when you finally get used to it all they change it again. If it it wasn't the only way to contact a large group of my friends I wouldn't be attached to any social website.

  5. My take on this is based on my work experience: everyone wants to completely automate all tasks, such as sifting through information. I think facebook guys are doing exactly this with the separation. What I've seen makes me believe that the sorting between the two feeds is arbitrary to an almost bipolar extent.

    The fact that computers can't really determine what's significant doesn't matter because lazy content stewards want them to anyhow. My take is that people should be the ones determining what's worthy - but - sadly this takes time and effort.

    In this brave new world of ours, information overload is causing us to disregard anything that isn't shoved in our faces. As a consequence of that, twitter will soon go from "140 characters or less" to "25 characters or less." Just give it time.

    Also, you should make some new videos John.