Google introduces the feed, a personalized stream of news on iOS and Android

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Google today is rolling out its take on the news feed, a personalized stream of articles, videos, and other content. The feed will appear in its flagship app for Android and iOS, simply called Google. The feed, which includes items drawn from your search history and topics you choose to follow, is designed to turn Google’s app into a destination for browsing as well as search. Google is hoping you’ll begin opening its app the way you do Facebook or Twitter, checking it reflexively throughout the day for quick hits of news and information.

Google previewed its new feed in December, when it introduced the feature to its Android app. Previously, the space below the search bar was reserved for Google Now, the company’s predictive search feature, which displayed personalized weather, traffic, sports scores, and other information.

With the introduction of the feed, the Google Now brand is going away, and the updates it used to contain are moving to a secondary tab called “updates.” The main space underneath the search bar will now contain a stream of cards related to your interests. In a demo at Google’s offices in San Francisco on Tuesday, a product manager’s feed included articles about the Oakland Athletics, a trending article about the Tour de France, and a 10-month-old blog post about a classical musician who she had previously seen in concert.

In most feeds, a 10-month-old blog post would appear stale and unwelcome. Google says it’s a sign of the company’s strengths — it can reach into the long tail of articles on the web, and surface them to audiences that missed them the first time around. Facebook and Twitter give priority to latest updates; Google says it’s working to prioritize relevance.

When you perform searches in the app, a subset of results will now show a “follow” button alongside results. News, sports, and entertainment stories are among the categories where you can expect to see follow buttons to start. Tap them and Google will work to bring you related content into the feed.

You can customize the feed by tapping the three dots on top of each card. From there, you can follow a subject or share the item on other social networks. You can also tell Google you’re “done with this story” and avoid seeing future updates, or tell it you don’t want to see any more articles from a particular publisher. You can’t follow individual publishers today, but publishers will surely clamor for it, and Google told me it will consider adding that feature eventually.

The Google feed came to my account Tuesday afternoon, and I spent a long while scrolling through it. The feed offered up articles on several of my interests: Netflix, Instagram, Game of Thrones, and the video game I’m currently playing (and have watched a bunch of YouTube videos about). The best topic I saw in the feed was “fake news,” and featured an article from Lifehacker on how to spot it.

Scroll far enough and you’ll get a basic, ambient sense of the day’s news. But few of the items I saw compelled me to read the article. Part of what makes Facebook and Twitter’s feeds compelling is the social endorsement that links there carry: you read because your friends tell you to, and you trust your friends. They also give you commentary and analysis around what you’re reading. In short, they feel lively — and the Google feed can feel stale by comparison.

It also draws on the underlying search technology responsible for Google’s featured snippets, which have historically spread misinformation about a wide range of subjects. The Outline reported earlier this year that Google promoted false news stories asserting that, among other things, Barack Obama was the “king of America” and was plotting a coup. Ben Gomes, who runs search at Google, told reporters Tuesday that the company had implemented “a whole bunch of changes” to prevent similar misinformation from spreading in the feed.

The most surprising thing about the Google feed, at least at launch, is how little video it contains. At a time when its peers are racing to cram as much video in their feeds as possible, Google’s is still mostly a text-based affair. When YouTube cards appear, videos won’t play within the feed — tapping kicks you out to the app or to a mobile-web version of the video. The cards are formatted in such a way that it’s easy to miss that they’re even videos. It’s all surprisingly clumsy.

For now, Google says there won’t be ads in the feed, although I imagine it would love to put them there eventually. Google is an ad business, after all, and it’s running out of places to put new ads on mobile devices. Earlier this year, it added a fourth advertising unit to search results in its mobile app, making you scroll down three screens before you see unpaid search results for some queries.

But with each passing year, we have had fewer reasons to open the Google app. Native apps from Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and others command more of our attention, making us less likely to begin our queries at the search bar. More recently, Siri, Alexa, and Cortana have been built into our device hardware, allowing us to bypass Google and search with our voice. Financially, Google is still on solid footing. But the trends are worrisome. Analyst Ben Thompson, among others, has written about the prospect that we have already hit “Peak Google.”

Viewed in that light, a Google feed was all but inevitable. The question is how quickly Google can improve it — and whether its users, whose lives are already dominated by feeds, will make room for another one.

Comments

Wait, hasn’t news and such been a part of the old Google Now feed for years? I distinctly remember having to turn it off sometime around the third quarter of 2016 ’cause it was getting too depressing. (And contained the occasional TV show spoiler.)

Update—found an old screenshot:


(Sorry, posted too early and let the edit window expire.)

You get that in Chrome browser on Android too (it’s now without the space between articles) if you scroll below recent bookmarks. I wouldn’t be surprised if it shows up in the iOS Chrome browser soon.

Yeah, I’ve noticed. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a way to turn it off, so I’ve been resolutely avoiding scrolling down on the new tab page.

(To be clear, I do read the news—I just don’t like being surprised by it while I’m just trying to check upcoming package deliveries, or shuffling tabs in a web browser.)

Yes and no. This is similar to the existing feed, but makes heavier use of machine learning to give you a better content, older content you missed, and multiple sources on news stories. The Google blog entry actually explains what is new in this feed compared to the old one.

For that same reason I stopped using Android recently. I found Google Now incredibly useful when traveling or expecting information connected with my activities. And then it started to prioritise news over my information. Thanks google but I know where to get news IF I WANT IT. Which I rarely do.

At this point it made no difference to me if I was using Siri for a few dumb voice commands or google, since Siri is kind of crap at everything, but now Google only wanted to show me things I absolutely don’t care about.

So I sold my android devices, replaced with iOS devices and to be honest after 11 android phones and a few tablets.. I’m pleased with the change so far.

This social news bullshit actively makes me dislike the service forcing it on me.

I have no idea what you are ranting about. Google Now has 2 tabs these days.. one for news, and the other for your personalized info (e.g. flight schedule, boarding pass, hotel details, etc).

Off would also be a welcome option. And to that for the first months I was not given an option to which tab to default to. We saw that option on a friends device at some point early on but not on any of my signed in devices! Yeah perhaps it is now but I no longer have use for that.

I’ve been happy, ish, with android since 2.1. And I’ve certainly used a few variations. Over time I’ve seen hardware specs rocket with little improvement to overall efficiency or notable performance between iterations and with the rapid shifting of what the basic applications offer to the user with options appearing an afterthought I’ve gotten tired of the experience.

After six or so years of android I think my choice to go elsewhere is reasonably considered, not just a rant.

And actually I was seeing less cards related to my activities as use went on, at least towards the end. I tried resetting card preferences several times but found things like reservations that used to trigger cards stopped.

This is not universal, I know this. And that is a common theme with android updates; a gradual rollout to so many users on so many devices can leave some people feeling theirs has been left behind or simply gone wrong somewhere.

I don’t use Google Now or voice commands at all. Deactivated, uninstalled, disabled, or changed the apps and options on things as appropriate to achieve that. No deep-diving necessary- I didn’t have to root my phone or anything, I’m using the official version of the operating system installed by the manufacturer and get updates direct from my carrier. Google Now is but a distant memory. I even installed Firefox as my default browser- something I did because Firefox for Android supports ad-ons like UBlock Origin whereas Chrome for Android does not- but that also would have the benefit for the poster above me of not having the news feeds he doesn’t like within his browser.

Now, to be fair, if you’re saying you need voice commands and a Siri/Google Now/The Feed type thing and want it without the news and with everything else, then maybe an iPhone is the right phone for you. I don’t know. Could be. Not everyone has the same preferred way of accessing technology, which is one of the reasons why it’s good to have different operating systems and manufacturers all competing in the same device space, because hopefully they’ll be something out there for everyone (Well, not literally everyone, but as many people as possible), with different operating systems/manufacturers/models filling different niches. Allowing customization widens the possibilities even further. Although I’m also not sure you’d have to deactivate everything you like to get rid of everything you don’t like- I didn’t like any of it, so I got rid of all of it and don’t really remember what was or wasn’t possible in between.

I’m not trying to talk you out of the choice you made, which may be right for you. I’m just letting people know who may not be aware that it is possible to buy a Android phone and then fiddle around with things to opt out of all this stuff if one doesn’t want it. You can even use Firefox or other alternate browsers to Chrome with an ad-blocker and opt out of ads (Though they still appear in dedicated apps for things if you use those instead of going to a website, of course).

One thing I don’t hear talked about a lot as it relates to the iPhone is that it’s OS really doesn’t allow alternate browsers. Oh, it allows various companies to put sort of a framework of their browser up in the Apple Store, so you can download, say, Firefox for iOS and it’ll have a Firefox icon and look like Firefox, but with iOS it has to use Safari’s web engine (Webkit). Ditto with Chrome for iOS, it’s there and looks different from Safari, but in the end underneath it’s using Safari’s web engine to actually display web pages. So, alternate iOS browsers can change everything except how web pages are rendered and loaded- making them more the equivalent of elaborate themes than actual different programs. That means you can’t have an iOS browser that has add-ons that do things like ad-block, etc.. You also can’t have people try to do things like render pages in ways that the other browsers hope will result in faster loading times or more security or whatever. Android allows alternate web browsers to really go all out and do their thing the way they want to- which of course sometimes means that some of the browsers could be worse than the default Android browser (Chrome) for some people, but also means that some of the browsers could be better for some people.

That’s not entirely true. The two tab display appears to be something, in the spirit of Google always keeping things in perpetual beta, that only displays on some people’s Google/Google Now apps.

Heck, I had it on mine, then it just went away several weeks ago, while I still have it on my work google account’s Google Now app, as an example.

Google has never put my news higher than the bottom of the feed. It is always the last on the list, after weather, MLB standings, Astros news, trade deadline news and video highlights (I’m a baseball fan, which Google knows very well).

I mean, that’s your prerogative, of course, but switching out your whole mobile ecosystem when you could’ve just flicked a setting off seems a mite extreme to me?

(I use both iOS – iPad – and Android – Nexus 6P – daily, personally. Both have their pluses and minuses, but I generally prefer Android. Partly because I typically find it easier to get rid of/replace stuff that annoys me.)

I’m using an iPhone from work these days and aside from the hardware and battery optimisation, I don’t see any pluses over Android. Can you educate me?

But i liked Google Now, especially with the launcher!.

Too bad it is going off

Yes, it has, which makes articles like this very confusing, because it suggests it’s something new.

If you’ve got anything close to stock (basically Google Now launcher) you don’t need the Google app, just swipe to expose the left panel. This article is written for iPhone users who can’t get that experience.

BTW, I much prefer Google’s news to the crap that friends on Facebook recommend. Even gives me The Verge articles I missed, once in a while.

Couldn’t agree more about the content. Getting more of same Twitter and Facebook echo chambers is the last thing I want and would in no way be an improvement.

100% agree. Most of my Facebook friends don’t share all my niche interests. I actually had to move away from the Google Now launcher because that feed was so good, it was making me late for work. Became a bad habit to read in bed for like 20 minutes. I’ve been using Google Newsstand since it’s the same thing, but requires me to launch it.

Facebook is just cat fighting over politics where people share absurdly slanted, bitchy articles about globalist leftists, or fascist "comrades".

If this cuts down on the number of times I have to hit "don’t show me stories from X" for cut and pasted press releases posted to ‘Indiana Christian Science Monitor’ or whatever I’m all for it.

I have always wondered how these obscure websites get such top billing on Google Now. One thing that Google is supposed to be good at?!

If you go to news.google.com, hit the settings gear on the right, and then go to sources you can block sources or prioritize others. I’d assume these settings would then carry over to your Google feed.

I’ve been using this for ages. Or at least the google now equivalent which seems like the same thing but organized differently. For me, it is about breaking out of my bubble. Google surfaces stories that I have some vague interest in but doesn’t understand my political or philosophical leanings very well. As a result, I get articles from a full spectrum of viewpoints and sources I would otherwise avoid or miss. I like that.

Plus I don’t have to put up with the absolute garbage that is posted on social media. Can everyone just stop posting "motivational" crap and badly attributed quotes please?

The video thing doesn’t sound clumsy, it sounds perfect.

Too much video content is being pushed at me – yes I like watching video online, but I can’t really do it in the office. And video content for news is rarely any better than a decent text article (and a lot slower).

Very much agreed.
Honestly, even when i’m home and can watch video news, I’d rather not.

I watch a lot of YouTube, but I don’t want to put up with crappy NY Times news video that lasts three times as long as it should.

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