Snap (NYSE:SNAP) completed the release of Snapchat's redesign in the middle of last month. While the reviews have been mixed, the early engagement and financial results have been promising. The main goal of the Snapchat redesign is to "separate the social from the media," as Snap CEO Evan Spiegel put it.
Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) started testing a similar idea in its flagship app shortly before Spiegel announced the plans for a redesigned Snapchat. Facebook tested two separate News Feeds in six countries: one feed for friends and another feed for news and more public content. After just over four months, the company put an end to the trial.
"People don't want two separate feeds," Adam Moseri, Facebook's head of news feed, wrote in a blog post. "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."
Behavior on Snapchat shouldn't be any different.
Changing News Feed
Facebook knows its News Feed isn't perfect. It overhauled the product last fall in an attempt to diminish the proliferation of false news on its platform. The changes resulted in a significant decline in engagement during the fourth quarter, especially among North American users.
Facebook is making additional changes this quarter to emphasize interaction among users around the content in their News Feed. These changes could further reduce engagement on its platform.
The company is trying to create a product that people feel good about using, one where they feel their time is well spent when they log into Facebook. For that, Facebook is willing to sacrifice engagement in order to produce better long-term results for both its users and investors.
Snap's Spiegel echoed a similar sentiment about maintaining a long-term view when announcing the rollout of the Snapchat redesign during the company's third-quarter earnings call.
Some advice from Jack Dorsey
Facebook's results show that people don't want to click on a separate tab to find the content they want. It doesn't matter what app they're using -- people favor simplicity.
Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) CEO Jack Dorsey has said the ideal user experience for Twitter is a single highly personalized feed that shows the right content at the right time. An inability to show users the perfect content is a failure in Dorsey's mind, and he says the company is indeed "failing" in that sense.
Dorsey's statements apply to any feed-based app from social media to news readers to streaming video on-demand platforms.
Twitter notably has two feeds: the main timeline and the Explore tab. Dorsey describes the Explore tab as an escape hatch for when timeline fails to surface the most relevant content. That's effectively the product Facebook was testing. It even called the public content feed "Explore."
Snap doesn't have the data to make a great one-feed experience
Snap sorts both of Snapchat's feeds -- the social and the media -- with an algorithm. The primary driver of what you see at the top is what you've watched in the past. Snap doesn't have the deep targeting data of Facebook (or even Twitter, for that matter).
As you add more content to the feed to get sorted, it becomes increasingly difficult to make sure you're showing users the right content at a specific point in time. That's especially true without a lot of targeting data. If the feed isn't sorted well, there's a risk of reduced engagement. That's why Snap opted for two separate feeds with distinct content in each, making it easier to sort content.
Algorithmic sorting of both feeds led to an increase in engagement, particularly among Discover viewers. Snap said it saw a 40% increase in daily users on Discover with its test group and an increase in ad engagement. Facebook's results with its own separate public content feed indicate Snap's results would be even better if it could incorporate Discover content into the personal feed of content from friends.
Snapchat's redesign is certainly a failure if you use Dorsey's standards of surfacing the exact right content at the exact right time. Facebook is, perhaps, closest, but it wouldn't be continually tweaking News Feed if it wasn't failing Dorsey's vision.
The redesign and the results Snap is seeing from it indicate progress, but there's still a long way to go for Snap to provide a truly simple user experience.
Adam Levy owns shares of Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook and Twitter. The Motley Fool has the following options: short March 2018 $200 calls on Facebook and long March 2018 $170 puts on Facebook. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.