Facebook fine-tunes game nags, notifications

Facebook is changing the way you get notifications, nags, and news items from games. The company hopes it will cut down on the idea of spam, while focusing important information for heavy game players.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--Facebook knows you don't want to see as many FarmVille news items and is doing something about it. That is, unless you play FarmVille all day. If that's the case, now there's a way to get even more of it in your news feed.

At a barbecue for game developers and staff here today, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined ways the company is changing the frequency of game notifications that show up in a user's news feed. The bottom line is that if you play a lot of games, you'll see these notifications, whereas if you don't, you won't. This is a stark difference from the existing system, which can be an all-or-nothing affair.

Zuckerberg explained that unlike the privacy settings--the same ones the company has now fine-tuned over the years--such a system did not work for games. "When we turned [the frequency] up we'd get complaints, and when we turned it down we'd get complaints," Zuckerberg explained.

The answer then was to weight the value of game stories to determine how valuable they are. This is accomplished mainly by tracking games that users play on a regular basis, with messages from other members, and in-game notifications getting more prominence based on how much time users are spending within any particular game.

But the new system goes deeper than that. As Facebook Games Product Manager Jared Morgenstern explained during the company's presentation, Facebook has redesigned its navigation to better suit what can be an incoming flood of notifications. Games that users tend to have open more often now get a higher spot on that list automatically, and without the user having to constantly reorder what appears there.

Facebook is calling this new system "smart bookmarks," and the algorithm for defining what shows up there is fairly simple. What Facebook does is keep track of the number of days within the last 30 days that you've visited or used applications. It then puts them in order automatically.

Facebook will now give users a counter to keep track of game items that need attention. Facebook

Next to each of these applications is also a new counter that alerts users that one of these apps needs them to take action, or has a notification for them. This looks familiar to the counters you find in a Web e-mail in-box; Morgenstern simply referred to the alerts as "red jewels."

"Users log in every day and see their red jewels and know what they have to do," Morgenstern explained. "We're going to be doing that with our own messages...Users will come to learn and trust when they need to come to Facebook."

To help people learn, the company is pointing out the feature with a how-to that will appear when users log in. It'll stay this way for the next two months, until a person dismisses it, which only needs to be done once to turn it off.

One controversial change that goes with these tweaks, which was highlighted in a question-and-answer session following the presentation, is that users will no longer be able to see a game-related item from a friend in their own news feed unless they, too, are a player of it. Zuckerberg explained that the users who were doing the most of this kind of sharing were doing it in context, and that it had been met with positive reactions during the company's internal testing.

The new changes are a result of Facebook spending the last four or five months reaching out to developers to ask what they wanted from the company's platform. That effort, Zuckerberg explained, was headed up by the company's 11-person games team, which operates out of Facebook's Santa Clara headquarters.

Zuckerberg said that other changes are on the way, and that this first set is the beginning of a larger infrastructure change for how the company plans to address games usage among its users. "Hundreds of millions of people like playing games on Facebook. And hundreds of millions of people hate games on Facebook," Zuckerberg said. "An interesting challenge for us is to figure out how to thread the needle."