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Facebook overhauls its feed to be more like TikTok — and adds a throwback chronological option

Co-founder Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday that Facebook users would begin seeing a different look when they open the app, including more looping videos similar to TikTok.
A man reads his cell phone
A man reads his cellphone in New York on Mar. 14, 2021. John Lamparski / Getty Images file

Facebook is borrowing an idea from social media newcomer TikTok and putting more looping videos in its feed, a sign of the growing importance of the medium to pop culture.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook's parent company Meta, said Thursday that users would begin seeing an overhauled look when they open its mobile app, with different options including a main feed, a feed with friends' posts only and a feed focused on groups.

The shakeup follows a period of slowing growth for Facebook, which despite being among the most-downloaded apps in the world, is increasingly a place for older people as younger, trend-setting generations defect to competitors. 

"The app will still open to a personalized feed on the Home tab, where our discovery engine will recommend the content we think you'll care most about," Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post.

Meta-owned Instagram already works that way for some users, who may see looping videos known as Reels in a feed that used to be only posts from people they intentionally followed.

Zuckerberg said the Facebook overhaul would give users "a way to customize and control your experience further," if they want to see less recommended content.

There will also be a tab for people to see posts "in chronological order," he said, the way that Facebook's original "News Feed" was when the company rolled it out in 2006. The mere existence of the feed caused a revolt among users at the time.

Social media competitors Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube have also tried out features that emulate TikTok's central appeal: mostly short, repeating videos from rising online stars or strangers who have proven their appeal with other users.

TikTok, owned by the Beijing-based ByteDance, has proven so popular that it's competing with television for many people, and some members of Generation Z use TikTok the way older people use Google's search engine.

The changes come as Meta faces an increasingly unsettled future. Zuckerberg said last year that his company was in transition from "primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company," betting that the next frontier of technology would be heavy on immersive virtual-reality experiences from digital concerts to imaginary travel.

Meanwhle, the rise of TikTok has come partly at the expense of Facebook and its parent company. The share price of Meta has fallen about 48 percent in a year, compared to a drop of 15 percent for fellow advertising giant Alphabet, owner of Google.

Meta is about to lose its longtime No. 2 executive, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, who plans to step down from the company this fall to focus on family and philanthropy.

But a strategy of copying other tech companies' popular features has proven successful during other rocky periods in Facebook's history. In 2016 and 2017, Instagram and Facebook added the feature known as "stories," a replica of a popular Snapchat feature.

The phrase "Don't be too proud to copy" became an informal internal slogan, The Wall Street Journal reported in 2017.