It’s undeniable: Facebook is a dominant force in how we use our mobile devices. Lately the company has been working hard to convince media partners to more deeply integrate with its ecosystem (and thus user base) through the introduction of new services like Instant Articles. The idea, at least for Facebook: Capture a larger share of screen time for mobile users.
On Wednesday the social network launched its latest effort: Notify, a news-driven app that feeds content directly to the lock screen of a user’s mobile device.
Introduced with a blog post and a series of carefully planned news stories, Notify isn’t just a behind-the-scenes feature for its core service like Instant Articles. As a dedicated app for iOS, it’s designed to be a central hub for alerts from a variety of partners, including BuzzFeed, CNN, and the Weather Channel. (Time Inc, which owns Fortune, is also a partner in the new app.)
As I described in a recent post, Facebook (FB) clearly sees Notify as the next step in a process of using content from media partners to make Facebook and its apps part of the core behavior of mobile users. Notifications have already become a powerful new interaction layer for younger users, and Facebook wants very badly to be part of that.
In an interesting twist, Facebook doesn’t use a newspaper or other metaphor to describe its alerts app, the way a company like Twitter might for its Moments feature—the curated experience formerly known as Project Lightning. Instead, Facebook refers to the different topic or alert categories that users can set up as “stations,” the way a streaming music service like Apple Music or Spotify might.
“Today we are introducing Notify, a new app from Facebook that delivers timely notifications about the things that matter to you, from the sources you love, all in one place,” the Facebook blog post says. “Whether you’re into sports, celebrities, news, movies, music or shopping, Notify makes it easy to find notifications you’re into with a broad selection of great “stations” across a variety of categories.”
After choosing a source within one of the stations, a user can then drill down within the source to select specific things—stocks, for example—or topics that they want to be notified about. Facebook obviously wants to minimize the number of alerts that show up on a user’s already-overloaded notification screen, but it’s unclear how many users will be willing to spend the time it takes to do this.
Like a newspaper website or radio broadcast, the Notify app has a sports “station” where you can get end-of-game summaries, a weather forecast station, one with new trailers from upcoming movies, and of course breaking news from CNN and Fox. It also has a fashion channel or station, and one for “daily meditation” from Headspace.
In many ways, Notify accelerates Facebook’s presence as a competitive threat to Twitter, which has built much of its reputation as a real-time news network on its relationships with media companies. The new Moments feature is supposed to be an improvement on other discovery mechanisms the company has tried in the past, but between Instant Articles and the new Notify app, Facebook seems to be becoming a better friend and partner for media companies than Twitter could ever hope to be.
For those media partners, Facebook’s massive audience of over one billion active users is impossible to ignore. But the more their distribution process gets locked into Facebook’s orbit, the more power they relinquish to the giant social network. And when Facebook changes the terms of the deal, media entities can get left out in the cold, as a recent analytics report from SimpleReach showed.
Notify might seem like an innocuous app, but Facebook clearly has its sights set on becoming the dominant way in which growing numbers of online users discover and read the news—and it is very close to already being that for large numbers of millennials. How that affects the way the news functions or the way those users perceive the world remains to be seen.