Facebook Challenges Twitter with News Feed Primed for Timely Topics

SAN DIEGO, CALIF. (TheStreet) -- Facebook (FB) Thursday said it has updated its News Feed ranking algorithm to improve surfacing content that's relevant and timely for users. The change is the latest salvo in Facebook's ongoing battle against Twitter (TWTR) , as the social media behemoths swap strategies in an attempt to appeal to more advertisers, and give audiences both topical and timely content whenever they log on.

"We've heard feedback that there are some instances where a post from a friend or a Page you are connected to is only interesting at a specific moment, for example when you are both watching the same sports game, or talking about the season premiere of a popular TV show," Facebook engineers Erich Owens and David Vickrey wrote in an announcement on the change.

Although the announcement did not significantly lift Facebook shares overall, the stock did edge up a tad as news spread of the algorithm change in afternoon. Facebook closed at $77 a share, up 0.75%. Twitter, meanwhile, saw its shares steadily give up ground in the afternoon, before closing at $50.88, up a mere 0.36%.

Facebook is now factoring in trending topics alongside users' comments and like votes, in an effort to understand if a person's post, or their Facebook page, is important in the here and now. For example, Facebook will bump friends' stories related to hot topics to the top of News Feed so they aren't missed. It will also analyze the volume of comments and likes to determine if a story deserves immediate exposure higher up in News Feed.

Facebook plans to introduce the News Feed changes gradually and users should not expect to see a dramatic affect on the distribution of marketers' content.

Twitter, meanwhile, is veering from its traditional strategy of delivering content in a chronological fashion with the most recent tweet is delivered first. The company will reorganize some content, resurfacing important tweets that users would have otherwise missed, according to statements made by CFO Anthony Noto. This approach smacks of Facebook's algorithmic structure, which could give defecting Twitter users another reason to return to its stream.

--Written by Jennifer van Grove in San Diego, Calif.

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