Ever noticed how you constantly take out your smartphone to check out news or updates on Facebook or Twitter’s feed? You do it, I do it, and we all do it multiple times a day. In fact, we do it every couple of hours and it generates a huge amount of organic traffic, interactions and social media shares. It’s a huge market and we spend a lot of time on news feeds, but Google somehow failed to use this near universal habit to its advantage.
Its search engine does get a lot of traffic (after all, it’s listed as the #2 website in terms of popularity*), but people don’t reflexively and repeatedly check it out throughout the day. We don’t go back to Google’s home page every hour of the day, and that’s simply because it doesn’t have a news feed. Hopefully, that is all expected to change, thanks to Google’s new feed.
So what does Google hope to achieve with its new product? You got it right… Google’s engineers and managers are hoping we’ll begin to use the new feature the same way we use Facebook or Twitter.
The feed, which will be available for both Android and iOS devices, will work in Google’s flagship app, simply called Google. But, the new feed feature is not quite new. It was first introduced as an option in the app’s Android version, back in December. Although only in testing, some users praised the news feed feature when compared to the old Google Now, a predictive search feature, which included personalized weather, traffic or sports information. Thankfully, Google Now will not fade away, but will be reincarnated as a secondary tab called “updates” in the news feed feature.
So what will the news feed bring to the table?
At first glance, Google’s news feed is quite straightforward: the main space underneath your search bar will feature a random selection of info cards related to your interests. Just like in Facebook or Twitter’s feeds, you can scroll down to an endless variety of info cards.
But Google’s news feed tries something new: it brings older info cards to your attention. In a demo done by a product manager working on the new feature, a 10-month old post about a music concert popped up in his feed. While Facebook’s news feed is focused only on the newest updates, Google is trying to show you older content which you might appreciate. Why? Well, according to Google, this is a sign of the company’s strength and research ability – it shows that they know what you want to read, watch or listen. In other words, with Google’s news feed, you don’t get only the latest updates, but the best updates. While Facebook gives priority to the latest news, Google prioritizes relevance.
As expected, Google’s news feed comes with another powerful tool: related searches. Whenever you search for something, a subset of search results will feature a “follow” button. In some categories, such as news, sports or entertainment, you can hit the follow button and get more related content into your feed. Also, you can customize what you want to see: just tap the three dots that are visible on each info card. You can then follow the news source, share or like the info card. Similarly, you can tell Google when you “got enough” about a topic.
Google’s news feed feels, at times, incredibly personal. You get news that interest you, they are tailored to what you want to see, articles that surely interest you and so on. But what happens if you want something completely new? Here’s where Google’s new feature lags behind Facebook. We love Facebook’s feed because we have friends (hundreds or even thousands), all with different personalities and interests, which tell us what to read, what to watch or listen. With Google, you don’t have that. With Facebook, you end up reading an article simply because your best friends found it interesting. You read it because there is a relationship based on trust between you and them. Google, on the other hand, offers highly targeted info cards specifically for you – and you almost feel like living in a bubble.
There’s another strange thing about Google’s feed: there is almost no video content. Video is big in 2017, and it’s expected to literally explode in 2018, but Google fails to go with the flow. While Facebook and Twitter crams video snippets into their feeds, Google is still focused on text information. Almost 90 percent of its feeds are text based and, whenever a YouTube video pops up, it doesn’t work flawlessly. The app directs you to the native YouTube app or suggests a mobile-web version of the video.
The good part, at least for now, is that Google won’t include ads in its feed. That’s great, as long as the Big G sticks to it, but we all know that’s unlikely. After all, it’s a huge market and, if things go right, there will be a lot of money to be made.
The final concern is more pragmatic: do we need another news feed app? We already have native apps from a plethora of online corporations that we use massively. Think about Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and tens of other media corporation apps. In this already crowded environment, Google’s news feed seems to be the guest that came too late to the party.