SAN FRANCISCO (REUTERS) - Facebook on Thursday (March 1) put an end to a test of splitting its signature News Feed into two, an idea that roiled how people consumed news in the six countries where it occurred and added to concern about Facebook's power.
The test created two streaming series of posts. One was focused on photos and other updates from friends and family, and a second was called an "explore feed". It was dedicated to material from Facebook pages that the user had liked, such as media outlets or sports teams.
The social media network decided to end the test and maintain one feed because people told the company in surveys they did not like the change, Adam Mosseri, head of the News Feed at Facebook, said in a statement.
"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," Mosseri said.
The test began in October and took place in Bolivia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Serbia, Slovakia and Sri Lanka. It quickly reduced website traffic for smaller media outlets, some of which had built their audiences on Facebook clicks.
The test revealed a contradiction in Facebook's relationship with publishers, whom the social network has also courted as a source of free content, said Leonardo Rodríguez, director of digital development at Guatemala's Prensa Libre group.
"This seemed to me like an abusive practice and shows their control," Rodríguez said.
Mosseri said the company had also "received feedback that we made it harder for people in the test countries to access important information, and that we didn't communicate the test clearly". He said Facebook would, in response, revise how it tests product changes.
"I hope Facebook will have more interest in what is happening inside its test countries," Slovakian journalist Filip Struharik, who had earlier criticised the test, said on Twitter on Thursday.
Struharik said news media websites are stronger now by not relying on Facebook for traffic, and he expects traffic from Facebook to fall further in the long term because of other changes to the News Feed that de-emphasise media overall.
In Cambodia, media outlets welcomed the news that Facebook had ended the test. Facebook has become an ever more important platform for political news in Cambodia after some media outlets critical of long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen were forced to shut.
“Facebook users in Cambodia will be able to receive information again after traditional and independent media were forced to shut down,” said Nop Vy, editor in chief at the Voice of Democracy radio station, which suffered a huge, 30 to 40 percent, decline in viewers during the News Feed test.
Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 33 years, has forced the closure of media outlets and jailed government critics amid a crackdown ahead of a general election set for July 29.
Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has unveiled other changes to the Facebook News Feed in the past two months to fight sensationalism and prioritise posts from friends and family.
The world's largest social network and its competitors are under pressure from users and government authorities to make their services less addictive and to stem the spread of false news stories and hoaxes.
"Facebook will have to think about how not to erode freedom of expression, but rather to somehow set limits and protect democratic processes and people," said Dina Fernandez, editorial board president of the Guatemalan website Soy502.