When Facebook made its big News Feed update last month to prioritize posts from users’ friends and family — and thus cut down on posts from brands and publishers — it did so with the explanation that it was optimizing its service to create more “meaningful social interactions.”
“I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the time. He used the same wording on the company’s Q4 earnings call in February to explain why Facebook cut down the reach of some viral videos on the service.
The only problem: No one really knows how to measure “meaningful social interactions” — including Facebook.
“We’re trying to figure out how to best measure and understand that,” Adam Mosseri, the Facebook exec in charge of News Feed, said Monday at Recode’s Code Media conference in Huntington Beach, Calif. “The key components are any interactions between two people. So it’s about people-to-people, not people-to-publisher or people-to-business or people-to-page.”
Mosseri says Facebook is still trying to identify what its users find to be “meaningful.” Conversations between friends, he says, tend to be more meaningful than conversations between strangers. Facebook is still looking at key metrics it has always looked at — things like “Likes,” comments and shares — to shape its definition of “meaningful,” but it’s not black and white.
“The metric is definitely evolving,” Mosseri added.
Facebook is a data-driven company, and Mark Zuckerberg is a data-driven CEO. It feels inevitable that Facebook will eventually come up with some consistent way to measure these interactions, which are clearly very important.
But it’s also interesting that Facebook has altered the makeup of its News Feed — the company’s most important product and biggest money maker — to prioritize interactions it doesn’t yet know how to measure. At least not consistently.
Mosseri and Campbell Brown, who runs all of Facebook’s news partnerships, said a few other interesting things on Monday.
- Facebook wants to build a section inside its Watch video tab exclusively for news video. Right now the company doesn’t have partners for the endeavor or a business model for it, according to Brown. But it’s going to happen. “This is very new to us and we’re still trying to figure it out,” Brown said. “It’s such early days that we don’t have a great plan around this, but we know we want to do it.”
- One big question is whether or not Facebook will pay publishers to help them create news videos that appear in that section — it pays for some Watch videos already, and has argued in the past that paying publishers early on is a good way to jumpstart a new type of content for Facebook.
- On the topic of paying publishers, we asked Brown if Facebook would ever pay publishers directly, a la cable companies, which pay carriage fees for the content they runs. It’s an idea Rupert Murdoch, chairman of both News Corp and 21st Century Fox, recently suggested. “I would never say never to anything,” Brown said, though it sounded like it’s certainly not going to happen anytime soon. “None of us know what the future looks like. I want to be open to everything and experiment with everything to try to get it right.”
- Some believe Facebook owes the media industry. Facebook, the thinking goes, has built a big business, in part, off content created by publishers and posted on Facebook for free. Brown said that Facebook wants to help publishers who want to be on Facebook, but it’s doesn’t necessarily need them. “My job is not to go recruit people from news organizations to put their stuff on Facebook,” she said. “If someone feels that being on Facebook is not good for your business, you shouldn’t be on Facebook.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.