Facebook has a super-secret News Feed test squad

Facebook’s News Feed algorithm is a closely guarded secret. We can extrapolate from what we see, but the biggest social network ever created plays its cards close to its chest and makes subtle changes to its social news algorithm on a weekly basis, if not more frequently. 

Writing on Medium, Wired alum Steven Levy reports that Facebook regards the behavior of its users as equally opaque. To peek behind the curtain of what someone likes and why, the company has hired as many as 600 test subjects for more insight into how users behave on its network. With more than 1.23 billion monthly active users, such a tiny sample is a drop in the bucket, but Facebook is able to ask the recruits questions about what they engage with, what they dislike, and why. 

Arguably, Facebook’s News Feed itself is a massive experiment with an impossibly huge flow of real time feedback as users click and Like their way around, but the company is obviously making efforts to pair its vast quantitative body of data with a more qualitative kind of insight. 

The experiment within an experiment remains mostly mysterious, but as Levy reports, at least 30 of these paid test users are located in Knoxville, Tenn., where they visit a special Facebook office and spend four hours a day interacting and providing feedback on the social network. Meanwhile, the rest of us do the same thing intermittently throughout the day, on the Web, on our phones—we just don’t get paid for it.

Illustration by Max Fleishman

Taylor Hatmaker

Taylor Hatmaker

Taylor Hatmaker has reported on the tech industry for nearly a decade, covering privacy and government. Most recently, she was the Debug editor of the Daily Dot. Prior to that, she was a staff writer and deputy editor at ReadWrite, a tech and business reporter for Yahoo News, and the senior editor of Tecca. Her editorial interests include censorship, digital activism, LGBTQ issues, and futurist consumer tech.