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Facebook test splits news feed to highlight posts from friends

The change could have big ramifications for publishers. The social network emphasized, though, that it's only a test.

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Facebook, founded by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is testing changes to its news feed.

James Martin/CNET

Facebook is testing a change that could be big for you, as well as publishers who rely on the social network to reach readers.

The social network split its iconic news feed in two: one feed for original content from friends and family, and another for posts from publishers and businesses. The change is being tested in six countries: Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Bolivia, Guatemala and Cambodia.

Facebook recently began rolling out a feature called "Explore Feed," for seeing posts from brands you don't follow. But in those six countries where the test to separate friends' posts from brand posts is taking place, the Explore Feed would also be the home to content from brand pages, even if you do follow them, according to Filip Struhárik, a journalist in Slovakia who wrote about the test.

The exception is promoted posts, which brands buy to make sure their content shows up in people's feeds.

If Facebook were to roll out the test more widely, it would mean the average user's main feed would be more populated with posts from people they know. For publishers that rely on Facebook to distribute their content, it could mean a drop in how many people they reach. Struhárik wrote in his blog post that the organic reach of several pages in the country fell by two-thirds.

Adam Mosseri, who is in charge of the news feed at Facebook, emphasized on Monday that the change is only a test. "It's not global and there are no plans to be," he wrote on Twitter. Mosseri followed up in a blog post later Monday with more information around the reasoning for the test. 

"The goal of this test is to understand if people prefer to have separate places for personal and public content," he wrote. "We will hear what people say about the experience to understand if it's an idea worth pursuing any further." 

A Facebook spokeswoman also provided more context about the test in a statement.

"With all of the possible stories in each person's feed, we always work to connect people with the posts they find most meaningful," she said. "People have told us they want an easier way to see posts from friends and family, so we are testing two separate feeds, one as a dedicated space with posts from friends and family and another as a dedicated space for posts from Pages. To understand if people like these two different spaces, we will test a few things, such as how people engage with videos and other types of posts."

The test is a reminder of how powerful Facebook's news feed is, and how tweaks to what people see could have rippling implications. For example, all of this is taking place in front of a broader backdrop Facebook is facing with its news feed -- that Russian agents allegedly used it to spread misinformation during the 2016 US election. Facebook will testify in Congressional hearings related to that controversy on Nov. 1. 

Updated, 4:35 p.m. PT: Adds details from Mosseri's blog post. 

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