Facebook Popular Photos`Source: Techcrunch

What you need to know

  • A report shows Facebook is testing a photos-only mode within its app.
  • 'Popular photos' uses an algorithm to generate a photos-only feed for users.
  • It could offer users an Instagram-esque escape from Facebook's regular content.

A report this week suggests that Facebook is quietly testing a photos-only mode for its mobile app, that would allow users to see algorithmically suggested photos in a feed similar to Instagram.

According to a TechCrunch report, the 'Popular Photos' feature generates an endless feed of photos from your friends in a full-screen view, generating a user experience that feels a lot like Instagram. Very simply, the feature allows users who tap on a photo in their News Feed or on a profile to begin scrolling through more images as a feed, much like 'Related Videos.'

The report suggests:

Popular Photos could offer users a more relaxing, lean-back browsing experience that omits links you have to click through, status updates you have to read, and other content types that bog down the News Feed. Instead, users can just passively watch the pretty pictures go by.

Facebook's text and link-heavy feed looks increasingly stodgy and exhausting compared to visual communication-based social networks like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. Users have to do the work of digging into the meaning of News Feed each post rather than being instantly entertained. That experience doesn't fit as well into short browsing sessions throughout the day, or when users are already drained from work, school, or family. Facebook used to have a dedicated Photos bookmark on desktop that would let you just browse that content type, but at some point, it disappeared.

A Facebook spokesperson has reportedly confirmed that it had indeed been testing the feature in October, around the time TechCrunch spotted it. The trial has since concluded, and the feature is being worked on with future tests in mind. It declined to disclose any more details about the motivation behind the feature. But it seems reasonable to suggest that Facebook is perhaps looking to build on the successful model of Instagram, which it of course owns. As TechCrunch suggests, it may well be that Facebook is trying to offer its users some form of relief from the swathe of written content on its site, much of which has become saturated with political opinions, making it frankly exhausting to look at. There is no confirmed timescale as to when Facebook may resume testing of the feature.