Facebook’s News tab arrives

Facebook is officially launching a news tab. If it feels like this happened before, because it basically did: a few years back, the company ‘pivoted’ to news and started wooing publishers with its special ‘Instant Articles’ format (which ultimately wound up going nowhere). 

It feels so much like deja vu because it’s the same, but different. The new Facebook News tab is running as an ‘experiment’ in which it’ll pay publishers cash for showing their stories there, and, yet again, it has the big names: BuzzFeed, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and so on. It’s a gold rush, again.

The sell for this news tab is that it finally has a dedicated space on the site, which is important to publishers right now after the company started slashing the prominence of news in the feed last year. Why publishers would essentially do a deal with the devil, again, especially in this market is a head-scratcher, but also not that surprising; publishers aren’t known for having a backbone when free ad money is involved.

Of course, this has all the hallmarks of a Facebook product: human curation is supposedly there, but it’s largely powered by magic news algorithms, which will decide what people want to see. It all sounds dandy, if you’re willing to forget a decade of literal abuse of publishers by Facebook, and that the company's flippant relationship with news usually results in mass layoffs. 

Facebook news, in my mind, is an opportunity to quell frustrations of news organizations and regulators alike primarily, with serving users only as secondary. News is often used as the thing to get users to stick around when it's convenient, and Facebook needs reasons to keep its platform interesting as it struggles to retain them.

For publishers, it's a deal with the devil that they keep repeating, without fail: lured in by money and desperation to find profitability, they commit to some new idea like this, drawn in by the promise. Once Facebook grows bored, or simply doesn't care, it'll rot and be abused to game for traffic, before eventually shutting down, ultimately resulting in layoffs again.

Forgive me for being skeptical, but in the news industry, history does repeat itself and news publishers make the same mistake, rather than having a stance, because any money is better than none. It's a sad cycle, and one that seems hard to escape... unless they all just refused to work with Facebook and forged their own path, together, rather than continue to bet on flippant product desires.

For now, Facebook News will only be available in select U.S. markets, which is fine with me. But, it's likely to expand to a time sucking feed near you in 2020.

Tab Dump

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Good read: Inside R/Relationships, the Unbearably Human Corner of Reddit

Good read #2: "Perfectly cropped"