Facebook Watch Platform to Launch Dedicated News Section

Facebook is set to launch a news section for its Watch platform and is testing different video partnerships with around 10 publishers, according to a report by Axios today.

Launched back in August, Watch is a section of Facebook in the U.S. for mobile and desktop that's designed to showcase TV shows exclusive to the social network. Along with serving as a platform for end users to watch shows, Watch is also meant to help creators and publishers find an audience for their content, build a community, and earn money.

The additional section would be the first standalone news product for national news in Watch. Previously news has been hosted on the platform mixed in with other publisher content through delivery mechanisms such as Instant Articles and Facebook Live.

Facebook is said to be testing a daily video feature for the upcoming news section that includes content from both "legacy and digital-first news publishers" and would run for at least a year, according to Axios' sources. Hosted content would be a minimum of three minutes, and Facebook plans to launch the feature this summer to test what works best.

Aside from Facebook's monetization goals, creating a news product that's native to the platform is part of an effort to promote content from vetted publishers, following last year's outbreak of "fake news" on the social network. Accusations that Facebook did little to halt the spread of misinformation on its platform hit the company's reputation among both users and publishers in 2017, and it has since been testing ways to guide readers to more credible sources of news.

In another Watch development, last week Facebook and Major League Baseball announced a content agreement to stream 25 weekly MLB games on the social network starting in 2018. The games will be distributed over Facebook Watch as part of the MLB Live show Page, and the deal marks MLB's first digital-only distribution agreement, which was unanimously approved by 30 Major League Clubs.

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Facebook Messenger Streamlines Controls for Creating Group Video and Audio Chats

In December 2016, Facebook Messenger rolled out the ability for users to create group video chats with up to six members participating, and today the company has further streamlined the feature. Before today's update, if users were already in a one-on-one video or audio call they had to hang up, start a new conversation, and choose every member to invite to the new group chat.

Now, while in a video chat or voice call, there will be a new "add person" icon so that users can simply scrub through a list of their Facebook Messenger friends, tap who to invite, and wait for them to join -- all without leaving the original call.
With the ability to add more people seamlessly to your calls, you can continue your conversation in the moment, just like if you were together in real life. Never again worry about skipping a beat when sharing your BFF’s spontaneous karaoke performance on Messenger. Sharing moments like these is now a few quick taps away.
Otherwise, the feature remains the same with six total users able to video chat at once and various filters and effects still supported. After the call ends, Facebook Messenger also creates a group chat automatically in each user's inbox, so that members can keep texting one another.

Facebook's refinement to group video chats in Messenger comes as a similar feature has yet to debut in Apple's FaceTime app. The long-requested, multi-person FaceTime call update is now being rumored for a potential launch within iOS 12 later this year, but Bloomberg has stated that it may not be ready for a debut in 2018.

If group video calls don't make it into iOS 12, other improvements to FaceTime are rumored to be coming in the update this fall. Mainly, Apple is planning to integrate Animoji into FaceTime, allowing people to use the animated emoji characters when making a video call.

For Facebook, the company said that the new Messenger update will be available today on iOS and Android devices worldwide.

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Facebook Promoting its Onavo VPN in Facebook iOS App

Facebook has started promoting the Onavo VPN client it acquired back in 2013 directly within the Facebook app for iOS devices. A link to the Onavo VPN client is available in the Facebook app in the United States under a new "Protect" section of the Facebook navigation menu.

To get to it, tap on the hamburger menu in the right hand side of the app, and then scroll down. "Protect" features a blue icon with a shield, and when you tap on it, it links to the Onavo VPN app in the iOS App Store.

As TechCrunch points out, while Onavo offers to "keep your data safe while you browse" and let you know when you "visit potentially malicious or harmful websites," Facebook's real aim with Onavo is tracking user activity across multiple different apps to learn insights about how its customer base uses third-party apps.
But Facebook didn't buy Onavo for its security protections.

Instead, Onavo's VPN allow Facebook to monitor user activity across apps, giving Facebook a big advantage in terms of spotting new trends across the larger mobile ecosystem. For example, Facebook gets an early heads up about apps that are becoming breakout hits; it can tell which are seeing slowing user growth; it sees which apps' new features appear to be resonating with their users, and much more.
In August of last year, The Wall Street Journal took a look at how Facebook uses Onavo to track what people do on their smartphones outside of the Facebook ecosystem. Using Onavo data, for example, Facebook was able to determine that the Instagram Stories feature was impacting Snapchat's business well ahead of when Snap disclosed slowing user growth.

As The Wall Street Journal explains, whenever a person using Onavo opens an app or website, Onavo redirects the traffic to Facebook's servers and logs the action in a database, allowing Facebook to draw conclusions about app usage from aggregated data.

Onavo for iOS and Android has been installed on more than 33 million devices, according to Sensor Tower, with 62 percent of those installs on Android. TechCrunch speculates that Facebook may be promoting Onavo in the iOS app to encourage more iOS users to download the app.

Facebook is clear about Onavo's purpose, with a disclosure available on the App Store: "Onavo collects your mobile data traffic. This helps us improve and operate the Onavo service by analyzing your use of websites, apps, and data. Because we're part of Facebook, we also use this info to improve Facebook products and services, gain insights into the products and services people value, and build better experiences."

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Facebook and Apple Work Out Deal for Subscription News Purchases in iOS App

Facebook in October introduced a new feature designed to let publishers sell subscriptions to their news sites directly on Facebook, but the social network could not work out a deal with Apple, preventing the news subscription options from being available on Facebook for iOS.

At issue was Apple's demand for its standard 30 percent cut of any subscription revenue brought in through the Facebook iOS app, while Facebook wanted all money to go to publishers.

At today's Code Media event, Facebook executive Campbell Brown said the dispute with Apple had been resolved, which means the subscription service tool will launch on iOS devices on March 1.

Brown did not provide details on the deal that Facebook and Apple worked out, so it is not clear if Apple will be taking a standard 30 percent cut, a lower cut, or no cut at all.

Facebook's news service does not offer subscriptions purchased directly on Facebook, but instead redirects customers to sign up for a subscription on the publisher website once the article limit has been reached.

Publishers have asked Facebook to change the number of free articles Facebook users can view without a subscription from 10 to 5, a change Facebook will also implement starting on March 1.

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Facebook Tests Reddit-Like ‘Downvote’ Feature for Disliking User Comments

Facebook is said to be testing a "downvote" button among some users of the social network, according to a report on Thursday. The "dislike"-like option apparently appeared in the comments section of posts within Facebook groups and on old Facebook memories content, as shown in screenshots shared with The Daily Beast.

A Facebook spokesperson denied that the company is "testing a dislike button", but then went on to offer an explanation that appeared on the face of it to suggest something just like one.

Image via The Daily Beast
We are exploring a feature for people to give us feedback about comments on public page posts. This is running for a small set of people in the U.S. only.
The feature in testing reportedly gives users the ability to downvote certain comments, similar to the way votes in Reddit work, but it's unclear how far the tests will go. According to a 2016 Bloomberg report, Facebook executives had rejected a dislike button long ago "on the grounds that it would sow too much negativity" on the social network.

In February 2016, Facebook launched Reactions, an extension of the Like button, to give users more ways to share their reaction to a post. The emoji-like feature extended to Facebook Messenger in March last year.

Facebook regularly tests features with a small number of users and many never reach the stage of a broader rollout to the general public.

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Facebook Announces Series of Updates Aimed at Improving User Privacy

Facebook this week has detailed how it plans to give its users "more control" of their privacy on the mobile and desktop versions of the social network. One of the major new additions is described as a "privacy center" that will provide simple tools to manage privacy and combine all core privacy settings into one easy-to-find interface.

In order to explain how to use these features to its users, the company today is rolling out educational videos in its News Feed centering upon topics like "how to control what information Facebook uses to show you, how to review and delete old posts, and even what it means to delete your account." This marks the first time that Facebook shared its privacy principles with its users, stating that the updates "reflect core principles" it has maintained on privacy over the years.

As pointed out by TechCrunch, Facebook's planned rollout of beefed up privacy features comes ahead of a May 25 deadline for compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU. The GDPR's goal is to give citizens back control over their personal data while "simplifying" the regulatory environment for business, essentially affecting "any entities processing the personal data of EU citizens."
Under GDPR, the new game Facebook will need to play is gaming trust: Which it to say that it will need to make users feel they trust its brand to protect their privacy and therefore make them feel happy to consent to the company processing their data (rather than asking it to delete it). So PR and carefully packaged info-messaging to users is going to be increasingly important for Facebook’s business, going forward.
While all Facebook users will gain access to the updates, beginning today users in Europe will get reminders pushed out to them to take part in the network's existing privacy check-up feature. In terms of the new privacy center, Facebook didn't offer any specifics as to when it will launch and if the controls offered to users will be the same in the United States as they are in Europe. Another part of Facebook's plan is to run data protection workshops for small and medium businesses -- again focused on a launch in Europe -- that will center upon the GDPR.

Earlier in January, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a major change coming to the News Feed, which aims to cut down on the content displayed from publishers and instead highlight more content from family and friends. The update was described as a way to have more "meaningful social interactions" on Facebook by reducing the amount of posts from businesses, brands, and media.

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Facebook Doubling Down on Stories Format By Testing Ability to Post From Desktop

Facebook is testing a feature that will let users post stories on Mac and PC, in an effort to further make the ephemeral sharing feature stick on the platform. Once the test rolls out wide, Facebook users will be able to click an "Upload Photo" button to share pictures and videos to their story, or "Open Camera" to record a story with a webcam.

Images via TechCrunch

The test also includes "much more prominent placement" for stories on desktop, where they will now sit on top of the News Feed -- similar to their location on the iOS app -- instead of in the sidebar. TechCrunch reported that all of this amounts to a new effort in "doubling down" on the stories format, despite the fact that most users have responded critically to the addition, and its poor performance last year caused the company to slightly tweak the app's user interface in an attempt to boost usage.

While some normal users might remain hesitant to use stories, it's believed Facebook's introduction of stories onto its desktop website could lead to "brands, event promoters, and group admins" embracing the format more. For users that visit Facebook daily on the web, the company said that the site will remain easy to navigate.

“We are always working to ensure people can easily navigate and enjoy Facebook, regardless of how they connect,” a Facebook spokesperson tells me. “We are testing the option to create and share Stories from Facebook on desktop and are also testing moving the Stories tray from the top right corner to above News Feed, just like on mobile.” Previously you could only consume Stories on web that had to be created on mobile. For now, a small percentage of users will see this new posting ability and design.
Facebook's push for stories is also centered around the company's preparation to launch more augmented reality features in the future. With stories launching on the web, Facebook's 24-hour post sharing format will now be able to sync across its iOS and Android apps, desktop site, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram, making it easier for users to share one story on multiple platforms.

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Facebook to Overhaul News Feed With More Content From Family and Friends, Less From Publishers

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this afternoon announced some major changes that are coming to the Facebook News Feed, which will cut down on the content displayed from publishers to instead highlight more content from family and friends.

According to Zuckerberg, feedback from Facebook users has suggested content from businesses, brands, and media is crowding out personal content from friends, something Facebook wants to correct. Rather than aiming to help Facebook users find relevant content, it will now help users find "meaningful social interactions."
Based on this, we're making a major change to how we build Facebook. I'm changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.
Zuckerberg says that it will take months to roll out the new focus to all of its products, but the first change will be coming to the News Feed, which will feature more content from family, friends, and groups. Less public content will be displayed, and what is displayed, should encourage meaningful interactions.
As we roll this out, you'll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard -- it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.
Through implementing these changes, Zuckerberg expects to see engagement and the time people spend on Facebook go down, but the time that is spent on Facebook "will be more valuable." Doing the right thing, he says, will be "good for the community" and Facebook's business over the long term.

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Facebook is Testing a New City-Specific ‘Today’ Feed for Local News and Events

Facebook is currently testing a new section of its mobile app called "Today in...", which serves up a feed of city-specific events, announcements, and local news, according to TechCrunch.

The company is kicking off the local hub with a small batch of test markets, including New Orleans, Louisiana; Olympia, Washington; Billings, Montana; Binghamton, New York; Peoria, Illinois; and Little Rock, Arkansas. Users in those markets can access the feature via the lower-right menu button, indicated by three horizontal lines in the main Facebook app.

The feed will be populated using a mixture of human-curated and algorithmically-plucked content, and is being spearheaded by Facebook's Journalism Project, designed to support news literacy and to serve as a hub for journalists and publishers to learn and share. It also comes on the back of the company's recently announced Journalism Project Initiative, which aims to build local news partnerships as one of its core goals.

This isn't the first time Facebook has dabbled in promoting local content. Last year the social network giant introduced a separate Explore Feed that is said to use live location information occasionally to suggest posts, articles, photos, and videos from local sources a user hasn't followed, but might be interested in.

In another attempt to establish links within local communities, Facebook recently expanded its e-commerce Marketplace service, which lets users advertize and check out region-based private and business listings for things like vehicles, properties, and household goods.

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Snapchat Copies Facebook Feature For Once With ‘A Look Back at 2017’

Snapchat today turned the tables on Facebook for once by mimicking one of the social media giant's favorite features – your year in review, based on photos and videos posted in the last 12 months.

The feature can be accessed using the memories icon at the bottom of Snapchat's home screen interface. Selecting "A Look Back at 2017" automatically generates a Story around your timeline of pictures, but the arrangement can be tweaked by selecting "Edit Story" and tapping the X on individual snaps to remove them from the collage. The Story can then be saved and shared with friends.

Image via The Verge

As The Verge notes, the "Look Back" feature may not appear if there isn't enough media from the last 12 months to create a story, so only avid Snapchat users are likely to see it.

Facebook continued its seemingly relentless trend of copying Snapchat features last month, when it began testing a new feature that plays on the latter's chat streak challenge, which encourages users to "keep your streak going" when messaging friends.

Prior to that, Facebook created a carbon copy of Snapchat's day-long, vanishing post idea in Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram, which gained 100 million users following the update last year. The company also previously aped Snapchat's face filters and rewinded video features for Instagram, which also proved a hit.

Today's feature debut follows news yesterday that Snapchat is testing a feature which will let users share stories outside of the mobile app, in an effort to boost sign-ups to the app.

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