Antsy publishers are starting to fear for their position within Facebook's powerful News Feed, now that tests have begun pushing their posts to an alternate timeline.
On Monday, Facebook acknowledged it was testing a version of the social network overseas where publishers' articles appear in a river of content separate from the main News Feed, which would be reserved for messages by family and friends. A publisher would have to pay for a sponsored post to get into the family and friends section.
"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," a Facebook spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement. "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 so far is limited to six countries—Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala, and Cambodia—and Facebook has no plans to roll it out globally, yet.
Word of the experiment caused some panic in the publishing world because media companies in the test nations had reported a sharp drop in traffic. A Slovakian journalist said some media pages saw the reach of their posts drop dramatically compared to the days before the test.
People likely stuck to the main News Feed, content with posts from family and friends, and didn't visit the test area where posts appear from media pages they like. Facebook said the dual feed test was different from an "explore" tab it will be rolling out, where people can flip into a media hub filled with content Facebook thinks they might enjoy even if the people haven't liked the pages that appear.
In any case, tweaks to Facebook's algorithm and product can have massive ramifications on the publishing world, which is already struggling under the digital dominance of the social network. Facebook has said it wants to be more friendly toward publishers. Just last week it introduced a new feature designed to help edit partners boost paying subscribers while participating in Facebook's Instant Articles program.