Some Facebook users were left confused at the start of the weekend when a mysterious rocket ship icon appeared under their news feeds. The company has now revealed that the button is part of a global test to surface content for users via an alternate news feed.
The interplanetary icon is being rolled out to select iOS and Android users, and when tapped on unveils a second news feed which surfaces recommended articles, pictures and posts from sources users haven't yet followed, but that Facebook believes they will be eager to read or watch.
A Facebook spokesperson said: "We are testing a complementary feed of popular articles, videos, and photos, customised 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.”
The introduction of the button without prior notice left users confused.
What has Facebook done now? I already really dislike that marketplace crap. Now what's this rocket icon thing??? pic.twitter.com/l0obKojCJH
— Amanda Clinton (@Amanda_Clinton) March 4, 2017
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
Some marketers have claimed that the social network is running out of space on its news feed to host branded content, and while it's still in testing at the moment a potential second feed has the power to free up more space for advertisers on Facebook.
Facebook's current algorithm has also been accused of creating 'echo chambers' or 'filter bubbles' whereby users are served content based on pages they already like or engage with. A recent Pew Study showed that Facebook is now the dominant source for news in the US and Canada, raising questions about how such algorithms affect the worldview of Facebook users.
In addition, a second news feed could help Facebook burst the supposed bubble, while also helping it continue to compete with rivals like Twitter – which over the past year or so has been billing itself as a media platform rather than a social network.
While the company has remained otherwise tight-lipped on the changes following its statement, the social behemoth has been experimenting with ways to pool content outwith the news feed for some time. In 2012 it introduced a now defunct 'interests lists' feature to organise the feed by topic, while at the start of this year it revealed that a dedicated video tab.