Facebook testing new feature to enable users follow breaking news

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Breaking news has always been so challenging for Facebook, with the flow of News Feed sharing, and the added technicalities of the News Feed Algorithm, hindering real-time updates and making it difficult for users to stay up to date. Twitter does it quite well and could be your choice for now. Facebook has for long been looking for ways to hoist this type of usage.

The Social Network has outline a new process which would enable users to follow a specific breaking news story, and get update notifications in their Facebook feed.

As explained by Facebook’s Head of News Products Alex Hardiman:

“Posts in News Feed are generally ranked according to their relevancy to each individual, not strictly by chronology or by how any given post relates to the other posts that appear beside it. So when a news story stretches across multiple days and multiple updates, people on Facebook can end up getting that story in scattered, potentially out-of-order bits and pieces.”

Brian Kadar, a Facebook engineer who works on news products, sums up the challenge this way: “How do we capture that a story is alive?”

Facebook’s new test expands on the Breaking News tag by also enabling users to ‘follow’ specific updates:

“Each update appears as a new post in News Feed, but users who choose to follow the overall story by clicking a button on any of the individual updates receive a notification whenever new content is shared. That notification links to a page where people can view all of the related updates in chronological order.”

The team’s first test, launched in November 2017, is a label that lets publishers mark Instant Articles, links and Facebook Live videos as “breaking.” To preserve its value as an identifier of important stories, each label can last for six hours maximum and publishers are limited to using it once a day (with a few extra each month, for big news days).

Over 100 publishers across the globe use the breaking news label today, which can be seen by Facebook users in Canada and the US and is also being tested in a handful of international markets. Meanwhile, 14 publishers in the US, Australia, Canada, Great Britain and India are participating in the developing news test, and a small subset of Facebook users in those countries can see developing news updates in their News Feed.

Today, along with their publishing partners, Facebook’s team is focusing on refining the designs of the developing news tools, to make it clearer that each update is part of a larger story narrative and encourage them to see Facebook as a place to get a cohesive look at a big news story from publishers they trust.

“We want Facebook to be a place where publishers can help people understand the news,” says Kadar, “not just deliver those bits and pieces of it.”

If successful, the new option could help Facebook become a more relevant destination for news updates, which could also provide traffic benefits for publishers on Facebook.

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