Facebook’s launch of Stories may be the social network’s big news of the week, but some Facebook users have spotted another addition, and are thoroughly confused. A “rocket ship” icon has popped up in the app of select users worldwide, adjacent to the News Feed button. Its appearance is prompting a lot of users to wonder, “what on earth is this thing?”
The button may be either at the top of the screen or the bottom, depending on whether the user is on iOS or Android.
As it turns out, the rocket ship icon is just the latest in Facebook’s ongoing experiments in presenting an alternate News Feed to users – one that consists of posts, articles, photos and videos from sources you haven’t followed, like Facebook Pages or posts news media organizations, for example.
While you might not be actively tracking these sources, Facebook believes it’s content that you’ll like. The items displayed in the “rocket ship” feed come from Pages that are similar to those you’ve already liked, as well as those that are popular with your friends – like a video that many people in your network are watching, for instance.
This is not a new experiment – Facebook was recently spotted testing an alternative News Feed, but was using a different icon (a small square) at the time. That test was also limited to Android beta users, according to reports. A similar earlier test on iOS actually labeled the second feed with the word “Explore.”
The new experiment with the rocket ship, however, is appearing in the mobile version of Facebook across both iOS and Android platforms, including those who have not opted into a beta.
I’m normally not tech stupid- but i have no idea what the "rocket" icon means at the bottom of Facebook on my phone.
— Scott Thomas (@only_me_ScottoT) March 6, 2017
Despite Facebook’s advanced algorithms designed to keep users engaged and endlessly scrolling – and its understanding of what a user has liked, watched, and clicked – the company has not heavily focused its efforts on helping users connect more broadly with interests through recommended content. Instead, today’s News Feed is filled with content a user has explicitly liked, whether that’s friends’ posts or updates from Pages users are following.
But Facebook has always wanted to have a better angle into people’s interests – especially as other networks (like Twitter) have made it easier to follow news and topics, and not just people, brands, and businesses.
In 2012, Facebook introduced “interests lists” to organize its News Feed by topic, but this never saw mainstream adoption. In 2014, the social network experimented again with interests, via its mobile app Rooms, which offered users a means of discussing various topics. But that app eventually failed.
An alternative News Feed-like stream of information could be another way of tackling interests, but popping it into the app without an explanation is clearly confusing to those who have new feature.
The expanded test is underway now in markets worldwide, we understand. The rocket ship icon itself is fairly new, based on a number of tweets most of which were either posted this month or the last.
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the global test in a statement, saying “We are testing a complementary feed of popular articles, videos, and photos, customized for each person based on content that might be interesting to them. We’ve heard from people that they want an easy way to explore new content they haven’t connected with yet.”