Last month, it was reported that Facebook was working on a new, Twitter-like news app which would aggregate notifications from publishers, sending live alerts to users whenever relevant content was posted to Facebook. Today, the new app - called Notify - has been officially launched in the US , and while it may not exactly be a direct rival for Twitter, it's an interesting move, through hard to say at this stage whether it's going to flourish, like Messenger, or flop like Paper.
Here's how it works.
In the Loop
As shown in the video, Notify is a standalone app that enables you to get real-time updates from the news sources of your choice, delivered via push notification direct to your phone. Where Notify is different from a regular RSS feed or similar, however, is in the degree to which you can customize your notifications - you can refine your news updates down to not only specific publishers, but to the types of updates you want from each - Josh Constine at TechCrunch highlighted some of these options in his review of the new app.
(image via TechCrunch)
As you can see in the above example, you can narrow the focus of the updates you receive from each provider, ensuring the updates are more personally relevant - as you can see, in the Bloomberg Business app (on the left) you can select which specific companies you're interested in hearing about, while in the CBS Sports app, you can choose your favorite teams and only get notifications about content related to those selections.
Even more than that, Facebook notes that users will have the ability to get even more specific - in the example feeds highlighted in the official release notes, Facebook mentions:
- The Final Scores station from FOX Sports provides end-of-game summaries for your favorite teams.
- The Daily AM Forecast station from The Weather Channel sends a local weather forecast at the start of your day.
- Daily Mediation from Headspace brings bite-sized guided meditation exercises into your day.
These options are pretty specific, and you can imagine that, if the app proves popular, providers might seek to get even more targeted with their feed options, increasing the possibilities for personalization and individualization of the service.
That level of control will play a big part in the success or failure of the app - we already have a heap of apps and tools vying for our attention, the last thing we need is a device to send us additional push notifications about content not specifically aligned with our interests. You can imagine that if the notifications people do receive aren't targeted enough, they'll quickly switch off - and the likelihood of them deleting Notify and not coming back is probably higher than it is of those users going into the app and refining their settings to fix the issue.
As content and media evolves, personalization is becoming more critical - just as social media gives everyone a voice, it also raises our expectation that that voice will be heard, and this, in turn, increases the need for tailored, targeted messaging, focused on each person's needs. The more personally customizable, the better.
If it works in this regard, you can imagine Notify becoming a great tool to help people quickly and easily stay up to date with the news and information most relevant to them. But it's a very tricky balancing act between providing the right amount of the right updates, and too many, unfocused notifications.
Form and Function
Notify will also provide station suggestions based on your Facebook profile, which could also provide a compelling element if used well. Facebook knows your likes and interests, and it can match those details against its 1.5 billion other members to come up with intelligent recommendations for what you're most likely to want to know about. Of course, this is inevitably limited by the providers available - at launch, Notify will have more than 70 publishers providing updates, including CNN, Comedy Central and Mashable. As Notify evolves, you'd expect this roster to expand, giving Facebook more specific options for recommendations and providers which could boost the apps utility.
Once you've selected your sources and customized the info you want to receive from each, updates will be sent direct to the lock screen of your mobile device, making it easy for people to stay up to date at a quick glance. If you want to see more, you can swipe or tap through any Notify notification to open the link in the app's browser where you can read the full article, watch the video, or view the site.
Notify also has a built-in sharing component to make it easy for users to share more content with friends, with the option to send updates via text, e-mail, Facebook or other social networks from the lock screen. You can also save notifications for later, so you can read them at a later stage, and you can view all the updates you've received from Notify over the last 24-hours via an in-app feed.
Pushing the Limits
As noted, the success or failure of Notify will hinge on the relevance of the push notifications being sent to each individual user. That observation might seem quite obvious, but it's a very delicate balance that needs to be struck in order to make Notify a relied upon app, a tool that people will use every day. As we know, while more and more people are spending more time in apps these days, very few apps see regular use - a study by Forrester Research found that while people are spending 85% of their time in apps, the vast majority of that time is spent in only five apps, on average. The competition for attention is high, and utility is what Notify will rely upon - it'll either a sink or swim type on that element. If the updates Notify supplies are useful, relevant and highly targeted, then it's not hard to imagine it playing a significant role and becoming a valuable tool for users.
But that balance is so critical - if publishers start incorrectly categorizing content, for example, and widening the definition of 'relevance' for specific topics; if, say, a sports publisher starts sending out notifications on every story, even if fans have specified that they only want team-relevant updates (maybe the publisher defines every general story as of possible interest to every team's fans), that could lead to people getting too many updates and switching them off never to return.
Facebook's trying to push Twitter on real-time news, something they've been working on for a while now. And while Notify does provide a real-time service, it lacks the interaction and instant stream of opinion available via Twitter, so it's not a direct competitor, per se. But maybe, as Notify evolves, it could become a more significant challenger.
Though, then again, probably 'if' is more applicable than 'as' in the previous sentence.
Notify is available from today for US iPhone users.