×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Facebook’s News Feed Chief Explains New ‘Rocket Ship’ Feature

Some Facebook users around the world have recently noticed a rocket ship icon that has popped up next to the News Feed tab on the menu bar. Facebook executives have kept mum about the new feature, until now.

Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s head of News Feed, described the rocket ship icon as an experiment with a relatively small number of users to expose them to information from people and pages that they have not chosen to like or follow. Mosseri, who has been at Facebook for nearly a decade, spoke Monday night in conversation with Variety co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein during the publication’s kickoff dinner, presented by IBM, leading in to its Entertainment and Technology Summit on Tuesday in New York.

“People can learn about new stories from sources they are not connected to,” Mosseri said of the tab, which he characterized as in keeping with the overall mission of News Feed: “to connect people with the stories that matter to them.” The information stream in the rocket ship tab is curated by Facebook based on algorithms that deduce a user’s interests by their Facebook usage patterns.

Mosseri explained that Facebook’s recommendation architecture is based on “educated guesses” that come from the tidal wave of user data that is constantly studied. No detail is too small to ignore, he said. “We look at little things, like when you watch a video, do you change it to full screen, do you turn up the volume?” he said. “We try to look for patterns.”

Mosseri said the space vessel motif was chosen by a designer on the project who Mosseri jokingly described as “very, very Irish.” At first executives figured it was a placeholder image. But as subsequent iterations were developed and studied, the rocket ship stayed. Finally, Mosseri asked the designer, “Why a rocket?” His answer is illustrative of the freewheeling culture of collaboration at the social media giant.

“Because everybody loves rocket ships,” the designer replied, per Mosseri. “I had a hard time arguing with him about that.”

Mosseri admitted that he’s unsure if the rocket ship feature will take off with users. But he cited it as an example of Facebook’s ethos when it comes to test-driving concepts and features on the platform. Fielding ideas that may fall flat with users is an inevitable part of the learning process.

“We believe deeply in experimenting and failing fast, and then learning from those mistakes and not repeating them,” Mosseri said. “I try to make sure my teams have the leeway to try a lot of things, to be really smart and skeptical and curious. When things don’t work, we call a spade a spade and when they do, we nurture them, grow them and give them more resources.”

Mosseri said it’s impossible to overstate the importance of entertainment to the global conversation on Facebook. More than 1 billion of the service’s roughly 2 billion users are connected to a page connected to some form of entertainment. Some 860 million are connected to a music-related page, while 770 million are connected to TV and 680 million are connected to a film-related page.

“These conversations are happening because people care about entertainment,” he said.

Among other topics Mosseri raised:

Fake news: Mosseri said the bulk of faux news postings on Facebook are generated by spammers who are financially motivated rather than ideologically driven to influence political discourse. Facebook is focused in “disrupting the incentives” for such posts. The social media giant is also focused in efforts to identify blatantly false news posts and stop them from spreading. Education is also crucial. “We need to give people more context to make more informed decisions about what to read, believe and share,” he said. “The urgency is high. We take it very seriously. We want no part of it on our platform.”

Video monetization: Facebook is focused on harnessing the formidable power of its video platform. Partnerships with entertainment firms are key to that effort. “We’re looking for ways to figure out how to do that together,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to do it on our own.” Mosseri cited a recent example of Reese Witherspoon going on Facebook Live to help promote the finale of her HBO series “Big Little Lies.” The actress connected with fans by naming more than 200 Facebook users during the course of her broadcast. “That was an interesting example of content designed for Facebook Live that helped create awareness and excitement around a show that already has a lot of excitement,” he said.

(Pictured: Facebook’s Adam Mosseri and Variety’s Andrew Wallenstein)

More Digital

  • BURBANK, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 18: (EDITORIAL

    Dax Shepard, Bobby Bones, 'Breakfast Club' Among iHeartRadio Podcast Awards Winners

    iHeartRadio launched its first ever Podcast Awards on Friday (January 18) in Los Angeles. Among the winners in 22 categories were “Whine Down with Jana Kramer” (Best Entertainment TV Podcast); “Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard (Breakout Podcast); “Bobbycast” (Music Podcast); and “The Breakfast Club” (Best Multicultural Podcast). The winners were determined by iHeartRadio listeners. Taking the top prize of Podcast [...]

  • Velvet Buzzsaw trailer

    Netflix Original Movies: What to Look Forward To in 2019

    Following the biggest fourth-quarter worldwide subscriber gain ever and some controversy around increased prices in the U.S., Netflix looks to keep its momentum going into 2019. From Jan. 18 through March, the streaming site will release 10 original films, including action-packed thrillers, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi, quirky comedies, inspirational dramas, an artistic horror movie and a viral [...]

  • The Beatles Eight Days a Week

    Imagine's Documentary Arm Sets First-Look Pact With Apple (EXCLUSIVE)

    Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Documentaries has set a first-look pact with Apple to develop non-fiction features and series. The deal comes as Imagine is investing heavily in the premium non-fiction arena. The company in June recruited RadicalMedia veteran Justin Wilkes to head Imagine Documentaries as president. The deal suggests that Apple sees docu [...]

  • Walt Disney HQ LA

    Disney Unveils Financial Data for DTC Unit, Sets April 11 for Investor Presentation

    Disney has rejiggered its business segments for earnings reporting to make room for the new unit housing its global streaming operations. Disney on Friday released restated earnings for fiscal 2018, 2017 and 2016 to give investors and financial analysts better visibility into its spending on the launch of the Disney Plus, ESPN Plus and other [...]

  • Facebook Logo

    Release of Docs to Reveal How Facebook Made Money Off Children

    Documents related to a 2012 lawsuit against Facebook in which children, sometimes unwittingly, spent their parents’ money on games via the social site will be unsealed, according to a Monday ruling from the United States District Court. The court gave Facebook ten days to file unredacted documents in accordance with the ruling. The 2012 lawsuit [...]

  • Facebook Logo

    Facebook Sets Up New Product Group for AR Glasses (Report)

    Facebook has restructured its augmented and virtual reality research division and set up a new group tasked with building augmented reality (AR) glasses, according to a new Business Insider report. Facebook acknowledged the move in a statement given to the publication, saying that the move affected “a few hundred people.” The group has already built [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content