Details emerge about Facebook’s news app, Notify

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There’s no better way for a company to capture someone’s attention than sending a notification to that person’s smartphone. We’ve turned into Pavlov’s dogs, only instead of salivating when a scientists rings a bell, we fire little shots of dopamine upon feeling the familiar vibration of a handset coming from our pockets. Facebook knows this, and will reportedly take full advantage via a new news application called Notify that may debut soon.

For those keeping track, Notify would be Facebook’s second mobile news app after Paper — third if you count the main Facebook app.

So, how is this one different? Notify will apparently allow select publishers to send notifications to people who subscribe to a publication’s “Station” for breaking news alerts, according to a recent report from The Awl. This meshes with an earlier report from Business Insider, which states that Facebook is working on a “stand-alone mobile news application” meant to rival Twitter. A Facebook spokesperson declined to discuss Notify, telling Gigaom the standard “We don’t comment on rumors and speculation.”

So far, there haven’t been any reports about Notify having a connection to Facebook’s Instant Articles, which allow publishers to host content directly on Facebook rather than their own (usually slower) website. If news of the app is true, I wouldn’t be surprised if that changed before Notify’s debut.

Notify’s functionality could be enough to entice publishers struggling to get people to pay attention to their articles. News organizations are becoming more reliant on using push notifications to drive engagement to breaking news or exclusive coverage. Why? Well, as New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan stated in a response to reader complaints about push notifications, those little nudges can “quadruple mobile readership on Times digital platforms within about 15 minutes.”

In other words, Notify could help publishers reach more people, and presumably even drive higher traffic to their websites. It could also increase the value of being first and/or fast to breaking news. In return, Facebook would get even more control over the media — even among publishers it hasn’t convinced to sign up for Instant Articles — while making its users more important in the process. Facebook likely enjoys its position as the funnel between readers and reporters, and Notify could be yet another way to make sure that doesn’t change.

Then again, Notify could also fizzle out soon after its release. As previously mentioned, Facebook experimented with another news delivery platform, Paper, earlier this year. The app itself features a refreshing design, and clearly segregates real news from personal updates. But Paper also hasn’t been updated since March, and isn’t as popular as other Facebook apps, according to data gathered by the App Annie intelligence tool. (A Facebook spokesperson declined to discuss Paper’s fate with me.)

The rumored news app may debut later this month, according to The Awl’s report. We’ll have until then to enjoy the bliss of relatively quiet smartphones.

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Chad Stephen Albert

There’s no better way to get me to uninstall your app or turn off the notifications entirely than to spam my notifications. Publisher’s have already proven they can’t help themselves (see site pages with 35 ad scripts and 25 different analytics plugins). I’ve already banned facebook apps from by phone (if I have a facebook craving, the mobile web page works fine) because of their incessant pushing of messenger and unneeded permissions. Be careful, or your users will throw you away.

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