Facebook’s New Notify iPhone App Wants Even More of Your Attention
Facebook isn’t content just to help you kill time when you’re on your phone. It also wants to lure you in. Today the social networking giant released a new standalone app called Notify to do just that. With Notify, any Facebook user can sign-up for customized mobile “push alerts”—the pop-ups that flash onto your home screen even if your phone is asleep—from news and entertainment outlets.
Notify—at the moment available only for iPhone—would seem to be the company’s latest effort to move beyond trying to hold your attention only once you’re already inside of Facebook. Now Facebook is seeking to entice you to come to your phone. Once a push alert has caught your attention, you might be more likely to head to Facebook.
The challenge for Facebook is that, as any mobile user knows, we’re already bombarded with alerts. (And some of us don’t like them.) For Notify to work, it has to be more than just more of the same.
The get around that problem, Notify promises to be more tailored to you, as with Facebook’s News Feed itself. Let’s say, for example, you want to follow San Francisco 49ers games. You could follow news alerts from FOX Sports and choose the teams you like to get the latest scores.
Of course, Notify doesn’t stop at sports. You can sign up to get alerts for Hot New Trailers from Fandango, Read of the Day from The New York Times, Celeb Bae Watch from Seventeen, Election 2015 from CNN, Final Scores from FOX Sports, or New on Hulu from, well, Hulu.
At launch, Facebook has partnered with dozens of other publishers, from A&E to, full disclosure, WIRED. There’s also Comedy Central, Billboard, CNN, Cosmopolitan, Eater, Entertainment Tonight, Marketwatch, Techmeme, The Verge, Time, UrbanDaddy, Vevo, VICE, and a handful more. Facebook also seems to have ambitions far beyond news—the app already features sections dedicated to daily deals, local weather, and health tips.
Weather, Traffic, and Coupons
On its face, Notify looks like it could be pretty useful. For news partners, it’s a way to reach readers who self-select that they want to be reached. That’s especially important, since many news and entertainment sites don’t have their own custom mobile apps. Even if they do, they don’t have the more than 1 billion people checking in daily like Facebook does.
For news junkies, the opt-in option is a nice way to filter out updates you don’t care about. And it gives users more granular control over what pops up on their lock screen. This could be especially useful for, say, sports fans who want to follow specific teams or investors who want to watch certain companies.
That usefulness, however, also hinges on how publishers choose to use it. As I’ve written about before, the business of deciding how to send out news alerts (how many? how often? which) can be a delicate dance for publishers hoping to capture your attention. Send too many and a reader will turn them off. Send too few and the publisher doesn’t reap the benefits of capturing your attention right on the lock screen. The onus will be on publishers to keep users interested with the right frequency and degree of specificity.
Seeping Into Everything
At its heart, Notify is another example of Facebook continuing to launch experiments in an effort to expand its reach. We spend more and more of our time on our phones; with Notify, Facebook can reach out from our sleeping phones, tap us on the shoulder, and lure us in.
Yes, it seems like a lot to expect that users will sign up for a separate app solely to get more notifications. But even if Facebook doesn’t get a huge volume of users, the ones it does get will give Facebook more data on what they’re interested in seeing on their lock screens. That information could lead to insights that may one day find their way back into the Facebook app itself, much like the tech from Paper was used to build Instant Articles.
(The Notifications tab in Facebook has seemed to lag behind other updates; it still shows you events you don’t plan to go to or birthdays of friends you haven’t spoken to in years.)
In a perfect techno-utopian future, I’d certainly love to get told what I want to know when I want to know it instead of having to seek it out. I want to spend less time staring at my phone, not more. Facebook seems to know this well (see, for instance, its personal assistant M.)
But, like so many things that seek to make our lives better, it’s also easy to see how its notifications could quickly become just another source of spam. Facebook will have to figure out a way to keep its Notify app from becoming more than just another source of junk. And just imagine if they decide to do ads.