After running tests on small groups of users last summer, Facebook has now launched a Trending section alongside its newsfeed. Competing directly with Twitter, this section goes one step further by providing explanations of why each topic is trending.
Facebook has hinted for some time that it wants to get its users discussing topical issues as an adjunct to talking about themselves and their relationships. This is why it started slipping actual news into the newsfeed, and the new move seems like a further attempt to spark such conversations. Clicking on a trending topic directs users to a page that prioritizes posts by their friends and relevant pages, then adds public posts by people with the "followers" function enabled.
Commentators have suggested that the explanations feature could give Facebook the edge over Twitter, but it remains to be seen how well it will work in practice. Sometimes Twitter trends develop for complex reasons, such as two people with the same name being talked about for different reasons, and sometimes the reasons behind them are hard to identify even when reading the tweets. Facebook may have some tough calls to make about whether to censor potentially libelous, offensive or adult-only trends, and how to handle things such as false death reports or accidental trends kept going as a joke. Facebook claims it has “rules in place that work to select concise, accurate, informative headlines”; however, what is missing is clarity about the degree of human involvement in the process, which is likely to need intensive round-the-clock monitoring. Current trends are so heavily celebrity-focused, however, that it gives the appearance of being curated at the expense of some organic results.
What many businesses will now be wondering is how much they might benefit from getting their brands trending on Facebook; after all, Facebook has a far wider reach than Twitter. There is as yet no word on whether promoted trends will be available; at this stage it seems unlikely, as Facebook will not want to do anything to put people off its new resource before they have had time to get used to it. Also missing at this stage is any filtering based on location; therefore, trends are heavily slanted toward the US and may have limited appeal in other countries. This may prove less appealing to many U.S. users that Twitter trends focused on their own cities, and may limit the feature’s usefulness for small businesses depending primarily on local clientele.