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Facebook begins transforming its notifications tab with Google Now-style cards

"More useful" — and more ad inventory?

Facebook is rolling out an update to its notifications tab that makes it look a lot more like Google Now. The update, which is rolling out gradually across iOS and Android for users in the United States, introduces a new set of "cards" into the space once reserved for your friends' likes, comments, birthdays, and event invitations. When the update arrives in your mobile app, you'll see updates about your favorite sports teams, TV shows, the weather, and news stories. News gets broken up into multiple categories — you'll see stories trending across all of Facebook along with stories shared frequently wherever you happen to live.

The new feed also includes movie times and nearby places to eat and drink, linked to accompanying Facebook pages and reviews. It's all straight out of the playbook invented by Siri and Google Now, and in its initial form doesn't go much further. What's interesting is the sheer gravity of the notifications tab — it's a place that often has our undivided attention, and that we check multiple times a day. In this, it has the potential to become the dominant place we consume this kind of daily information. The trick will be in how effectively Facebook can personalize the information it provides here. Right now, for example, the sports scores you see are tied to which teams you have "liked" on Facebook — a step millions of us haven't taken, and never will. Google is clever about personalizing its cards, and Facebook still has a lot to learn from it.

The other risk Facebook faces is turning a very high-signal feed into something much noisier. The company says it has no plans to sell ads in notifications, but I imagine the prospect will only grow more appealing over time. Meanwhile, I want to know about almost every like I receive on Facebook; I'm much less interested in getting my movie times there. You can also add and delete cards as you see fit. But most people will stick with the defaults, and the result is a kind of secondary News Feed that (at least in the case of news and sports scores) carries much of the same information as the original. Notifications have traditionally been the place in a social app where you see the absolute most personally relevant information; by expanding what it sees as notification-worthy, Facebook may be diluting that.