Facebook using natural language processing to group posts, link to Pages

Facebook is using natural language processing to group posts in your News Feed, and link to a Page relevant to the topic that is being discussed.
Written by Emil Protalinski, Contributor

Facebook has added a new type of story to its News Feed today: if more than one of your friends post about the same topic, and it has a Page on the social network, the posts will be grouped under a Posted About story, even if your friends don't explicitly tag the Page. The story is posted in the following format: "[Friend] and [x] other friends posted about [Page]" where the last part is a link to the Page in question.

It turns out Facebook is using natural language processing on status updates as well as the headlines of posted links to figure out if a topic mentioned has a corresponding Page, and then searches to see if your other friends have done so as well. This helps users quickly see which topics are popular (in Twitter terms, that would be trending topics) amongst their Facebook friends (as opposed to across all of Twitter). It also obviously gives a boost to Pages.

While Facebook has been testing the Posted About aggregated News Feed story since late 2010, Facebook only quietly announced this change today, and presumably started rolling it out to everyone on the site. The news came as part of a photo uploaded to the Facebook's own Facebook Page.

As you can see in the image above, both Dmitry and Abhinai did not tag the actual Harry Potter page in their posts, although Ken did. When Facebook grouped the three posts into a News Feed story though, it linked to the Harry Potter Page. Even if Ken didn't tag Harry Potter, Facebook would still link to it: Facebook is actively scanning users statuses for Pages that it can group content by, regardless if a Page is tagged or not.

It's also worth noting that Pages you have Liked, and are thus allowed to post to your News Feed, are also included in this new type of story. This means that if one or more of your Pages and/or Facebook friends post about a given topic, they may be grouped under one story in your News Feed that links to the topic's Page.

"You may notice some of your News Feed stories are now grouped together by topic," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "We want to show you the most relevant and interesting information, and this test is designed to show you trends among what your friends are saying."

The Posted About stories let Facebook link to Pages without actually changing a user's original update, even if users don't know how to tag Pages (using the @ operator), do not want to do so, or don't Like the Page related to the topic they are discussing. It follows that some users will not like Posted About stories as they will find it intrusive for Facebook to be scanning their posts.

Facebook told Inside Facebook that its natural language processing doesn't detect sentiment, how a Page's name is being used, or whether the mentioned Page was actually the focus of the update. Page owners may not like Facebook linking to their Page if a post isn't actually what a user was discussing or if it is being talked about negatively.

Still, considering speculation that Facebook is working on an unfiltered News Feed that shows more content, this is a step in the right direction since it should make parsing more content easier for users and drive more traffic to Pages. Overall, most users and Page owners will likely embrace this change.

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