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Questions and answers about latest Facebook changes

Friday, September 23, 2011 | 8:54 a.m. CDT; updated 10:00 a.m. CDT, Friday, September 23, 2011

NEW YORK — Every year or so — and sometimes more often — Facebook manages to miff a vocal percentage of users by changing the look and feel of its site. As it adds new features, it invariably takes away things people have grown attached to. It's no different with the changes unveiled this week. Some have already gone live while others will be coming to your Facebook page soon.

Here are some questions and answers on Facebook's latest transformation.

Question: Why don't I have the new Facebook yet?

Answer: Facebook rolls out its new features gradually, so not all 800 million users see the updates at once. First, the changes are tested internally. Once they are public, the changes are rolled out geographically. U.S. users will likely see the changes first, but even that could depend on where you live. You also may need to close and reopen your browser or log out and log back in. The just-announced timeline feature won't be available to users until later this year — Facebook has not yet said when.

Q: Why does Facebook keep changing things? I liked it the way it was.

A: At its heart, Facebook is a technology company that wants to keep improving its products so that people keep using it and it doesn't grow stale. Sometimes, the changes are things people ask for. Other times, engineers try to anticipate new ways people will want to use Facebook. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. Facebook also tends to change its site to encourage users to share and interact more, whether that's with each other or with businesses, public figures and the like. This has often raised concern among privacy advocates.

Q: What is the scrolling, Twitter-like list of my Facebook friends' activities doing on the right side of the new layout?

A: Facebook calls this the "ticker" — not to be confused with, but similar to, Twitter. The idea is to show a live feed of everything going on with your Facebook friends and pages you follow as it is happening. There will be information here that doesn't appear on your regular news feed, such as songs your friends are listening to on the music service Spotify, news stories they are reading or, eventually, even movies or TV shows they watched on Netflix.

Q: Does Facebook care about angering its users with the changes?

A: Facebook has said in the past that the percentage of users who complain about its changes is small. But a small percentage of 800 million users is still a big group. And even with angry users taking to social media to complain, the growth of Facebook's user base, not to mention how much people are sharing on the site and beyond, is growing at a staggering pace. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday that Facebook passed a milestone recently where it had 500 million of its users logged in at once. So while a lot of users may hate the changes, it is not driving them away. The company is betting it knows what people want.

Q: How do I go back to the "old" Facebook?

A: You mean other than a time machine? That's tough. But there are some website plugins, such as "Better Facebook" that try to enhance the way your Facebook page looks and feels. Using the mobile application will also give you a more simple Facebook experience.

Q: How does Facebook determine what my "top news" should be?

A: The "top news" feature has already existed on Facebook, it just didn't automatically appear on the top of your news feed every time you logged in. This is the stuff Facebook thinks you will be most interested in. So it's updates from friends you interact with the most, big news stories from media accounts you follow or photos from your friends that got a lot of comments, for example. It's not an exact science, so you can uncheck a top story by clicking on a tiny triangle on its upper left corner. The site will try to remember, and a box will pop up saying "we'll try not to pub more stories like this at the top of your News Feed."

Q: Isn't this all about getting Facebook more advertising money?

A: That will almost certainly be one outcome, though Facebook has never made that its outright goal. It's more of an "if we build it, they will come" type of situation. The company is expected to bring in $3.8 billion in worldwide advertising revenue this year and $5.8 billion in 2012, according to research firm eMarketer. The more time people spend on its site or share and the more information they share about themselves, the better companies can target their ads.


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