Facebook adds news retrieval based on your assorted likes

John P. Mello Jr., TechHive
4 February, 2013
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A new feature in the works by Facebook for its mobile app could add more automated content to clog your news feed or give you a way to discover articles on some of your favorite topics.

The feature pushes items titled “Recent Articles about” into your Facebook news feed, providing a link to articles about the subjects of pages you “liked.”

Depending on how this new articles-related-to algorithm functions, the new feature could seed your Facebook news feed with valuable information or just add noise to it. Its usefulness also might vary with how many pages you “like.”

The feature could compete with popular feed aggregating apps like Flipboard, Pulse, and Zite, according to Josh Constine, writing for TechCrunch.

That seems a bit of a stretch, since some distinctive features of those aggregation apps—visual verve and customisation—appear to be missing from the new Facebook feature.

In addition, to buy into articles-related-to, you have to trust Facebook to serve up links to content that you really want to read. That’s not an easy task and not one likely to be accomplished by calling your attention to a piece just because you “like” a particular Facebook page and an article related to the subject of that page is getting a lot of attention from Facebook’s minions.

It can also be problematic because Facebook wants to keep you in its orchard and not go cherry-picking elsewhere. An app like Flipboard doesn’t care if you click on an object and read an article at its native location. Facebook does.

That problem, though, is fixable. As Constine points out, Rockmelt, which bills itself as a social browser, has found a way to deliver content from other websites in a pop-up window so a visitor doesn’t have to leave one website to read content on another.

If such a feature were built into articles-related-to, not only could Facebook keep article readers on-site, but it could monetise it. It could cut deals with publishers to collect a tithe for delivering readers to them, and it could sell advertising to be placed inside the pop-ups. That should make Facebook shareholders happy.

Facebook already has a feature similar to articles-related-to. It’s called Trending Articles. It tells you what your friends are reading or watching—while the new articles-related-to polls the entire Facebook universe. Also, Trending Articles can be about any subject—not necessarily one you’re interested in—while articles-related-to serves up recommendations based on something you’ve expressed an interest in. Many Trending Article links lead to sensational stories auto-shared among friends with Open Graph news reader apps, according to Constine.

What remains to be seen is where Facebook will next take articles-related-to. Is it a prelude to creating news-only feeds as it has done with Pages and Music pages? Just as you can now see a page of updates to pages you’re connected to on Facebook, in the future will you may be able to create a page of news sources you’re linked to?

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