These questions don’t mean that Mr. Zuckerberg’s new plan will fail. But if he really does want to make the time we spend on Facebook count as “time well spent,” I suspect Facebook will have to change much more radically than it is now letting on. It can’t just become a slightly healthier cookie company; it may have to get out of the sugar business altogether. And what, then, happens to all those billions in future profits? (On Friday, the stock market seemed to harbor the same worry; Facebook’s stock fell 4.5 percent.)
Mr. Zuckerberg says his concerns are raised by research showing that some uses of social networking make people feel bad about themselves. As two of Facebook’s researchers described in a recent blog post, mindlessly reading the News Feed without interacting much — just scrolling and pressing Like occasionally — was associated with lower mental well-being.
But a study that Facebook’s scientists conducted with outside researchers found that deeper sharing on the network — “sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions,” per the blog post — improves a person’s well-being. It’s this sort of activity that Facebook is trying to encourage with the new design. Think of it as the kale cookie of Facebook.
Facebook is conceding that when the good kind of social networking is given priority over the bad kind, people are likely to spend less time on the service. What’s unclear is how much less time. According to data collected by Nielsen and crunched by Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research Group, American adults spent about 37 minutes a day on Facebook in September. What if it turns out that if we’re going to spend only worthwhile time on Facebook, we need only 10 or 15 minutes there a day?
It’s likely that Facebook has a very good idea of how its changes will affect engagement; the company is obsessive about running experiments and modeling its changes using…