One of the thing that stresses me the most, when browsing Facebook News Feed, is that the feed is automatically updated when jumping between tabs or when I visit a link from a post.

On the opposite side, Twitter and other services have a button prompting that new posts are available and the feed only refreshes if the user clicks/taps to do so.

Question here is: is there any study/analysis that shows that automatically feed update is beneficial (or not) compared to having to refresh it manually?

I can't find a good reason to have a feed refresh automatically when it's dense with content...

  • The question is, beneficial for what goal? – Alvaro May 17 '17 at 13:29
  • @Alvaro to understand if visualising data with real-time update has improved usability if it's updated with or without user action – Joao Carvalho May 17 '17 at 13:31
  • This sounds like a good case for user testing - I suspect that there's no 'correct' way to do this and the right thing to do will be based on your specific use-case and users. – Andrew Martin May 23 '17 at 8:07
  • 1
    @AndrewMartin I suspect that some applications or services might even have multiple use cases rolled into one, so this makes the testing a little bit more tricky. – Michael Lai May 23 '17 at 9:09
up vote 4 down vote accepted
+50

I think any study or analysis of the way feeds are refreshed on websites and applications would need be to done in the context of the type of user accessing the information and also the type of content being published.

The reason why it wouldn't make sense to look at only the type of user accessing the information or just the type of content being published is because these two combined provide the best indication of the context of usage:

Type of user accessing the information

  • Emphasis on the 'freshness' of the content
  • Emphasis on the 'completeness' of the content

Type of content being published

  • Has a relatively stable shelf life that is not subject to frequent change

  • Has a relatively short shelf life that can be subject to constant change

I'll provide and example of how different design strategies are applied in the case of news broadcasts. In a typical news broadcast, the presenter and the viewer is focused on recent information. Generally when the news presenter is speaking, we are provided with what would be 'relatively' new information. In addition, there are often news flashes being displayed across the bottom of the screen for news information that are probably 'fresher' than what the presenter is providing. On top of this, the presenter will interrupt what they are presenting so they can cross over to 'breaking news'.

So here we can see that the news bulletin is a 'complete' content that has a stable shelf life, compared to the 'fresh' content that also has a stable shelf life. The breaking news is 'fresh' content that has a relatively short shelf life.

  • Liked the types of accessing information! – DPS May 23 '17 at 11:25

Nielsen Norman Group states that you should not automatically refresh the homepage because it feels intrusive. Only update content that has changed. For example, Twitter shows the 'x new tweets' indicator.

They have the following two guidelines on page reload and refresh. Look at guidelines 97 and 98 of the source.

Page Reload and Refresh

When users reload or refresh your homepage, changes can be jarring. Try to keep the transition as smooth as possible and maintain continuity with their previous experience of your page.

97. Don't automatically refresh the homepage to push updates to users. Automatic reloading feels intrusive — it's like pulling the rug out from under your users, particularly if they are using a part of the page that disappears or changes position during the refresh. For example, NewsNow automatically updates the page every five minutes, which means many of the headlines move off of the homepage and get replaced by new ones. This forced reloading can also lead to technical problems for users on dialup connections, whose computers might try to dial up at unexpected times (such as when the user is on the telephone on a line shared by a modem), or when the previous version of the page is replaced with an error message stating that the page could not be loaded. On slow connections you're taking up the user's bandwidth and time without asking if it's okay. For site features that require real-time updates, like sports scores, chat rooms, and stock tickers, consider providing a tool that enables users to get a live data feed. Such tools might potentially utilize an audio signal to attract the user's attention in case of breaking news. If you do so, it will be important to exercise restraint and only "ring the bell" for something truly important, as determined by an editorial decision or by a user-defined alert preference setting.

98. When doing a refresh, update only content that has actually changed, such as news updates. For example, don't rotate through a set of photos, because users will waste their time trying to figure out what has happened and why the change has happened instead of focusing on useful tasks. Meaningless change is especially bad when sites randomly rotate through content — users waste time trying to figure out the pattern when there is none.

Source: 113 Design Guidelines for Homepage Usability

Source: Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed

  • I'm impressed that the argument of having a slow-connection is mentioned with highlight or even audio signal when we have services like Facebook that automatically plays videos on the News Feed and they take usability serious... I would say that automatically refresh the homepage makes users feel lost when going back to where they were when analysing the home section, for example – Joao Carvalho May 24 '17 at 6:25
  • This may be one of the most important UX conversations of the year. Auto-refresh is one of the most annoying features I've ever seen. If others try to replicate Facebook (assuming that everything Facebook does is a best practice), we could have a real mess on our hands. – Travis Kindred May 26 '17 at 14:30

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