NEW YORK — Facebook is at it again. The social network is tweaking the home pages of its 750 million users, much to the chagrin of some very vocal folks.
The world's largest online social network is expected to announce even more changes Thursday, when it holds its annual F8 conference in San Francisco for developers who create games and other applications for its site.
The gathering follows a trickle of changes to Facebook during the past few weeks. Some, such as larger photo displays and a feature that makes it easier to group friends into categories, were met with approval — or at least silence, which in the age of social-media oversharing could be considered an endorsement.
Then came Wednesday, when many users woke to find their home pages altered, with what Facebook calls "top stories" on the top of their pages, followed by "recent stories" listed in chronological order. On the right side, meanwhile, there's something called a "ticker," a live feed of all the ongoing activity that also appears in users' news feeds. It's a kind of Facebook inside Facebook, if you will.
By mid-morning, the words "new Facebook" quickly became one of the most discussed topics on Twitter. Many comments were negative, though some pointed out that Facebook makes many changes to its site and people eventually get used to it.
For its part, Facebook has long asserted that it makes changes to keep users engaged and that those alterations are often based on user requests. Other tweaks derive from the company's study of activity on Facebook and what it thinks people will enjoy using. Privacy advocates, meanwhile, have contended that Facebook changes its site to get people to share as much as possible about their habits, hobbies and likes — all to give advertisers a better picture of who to target.
In reality, it's a little of both. The way Facebook sees it, the more people enjoy using the site, the more time they'll spend there.
The latest changes are "tailored at making sure this news feed is what you want to see," said Mike Schroepfer, vice president of engineering at Facebook. "We want to make sure we provide the right kind of basics to make sure that the core of Facebook is sharing and (seeing) the right kind of things."
And, so far, that's been good for business — despite the grumblings of a vocal minority of Facebook users. The company is expected to bring in $3.8 billion in worldwide advertising this year and $5.8 billion in 2012, according to research firm eMarketer.
Facebook, though clearly king of social networks, is also competing with Twitter and Google Plus for attention. As such, the race to add new features has the potential to confuse users, said Debra Aho Williamson, principal analyst at eMarketer.
"It's like ... who's going to come up with the best, most interesting features to keep people using their service," she said. "Everyone is copying each other, making sure whatever feature Twitter offers, Facebook offers, whatever Facebook offers, Google Plus offers."