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Facebook starts testing News, its new section for journalism

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Facebook’s news section, which was previously reported to be imminent, is here: The company is rolling out Facebook News in a limited test in the U.S. as a home screen tab and bookmark in the main Facebook app.

In a blog post, Facebook’s Campbell Brown (vice president of global news partnerships) and Mona Sarantakos (product manager, news) said that news articles will continue to appear in the main News Feed. However, they said that creating a specific tab focused on journalism “gives people more control over the stories they see, and the ability to explore a wider range of their news interests, directly within the Facebook app.”

Brown and Sarantakos added that the News tab was developed in consultation with publishers, and also based on feedback from a survey of more than 100,000 Facebook users in the United States earlier this year.

It sounds like Facebook News will use both human editors and algorithms to determine which stories you see — an unusual move for a company that’s been hesitant to police the content posted by users and advertisers. Specifically, there will be a section called Today’s Stories, curated by a team of journalists to highlight the biggest national news stories of the day.

Facebook News

At the same time, Facebook will also provide algorithmic story suggestions based on your interests and activity. You’ll be able to hide articles, topics and publishers you don’t want to see, and browse sections devoted to business, entertainment, health, science and technology, and sports — topics where Facebook users apparently felt underserved.

“Regarding personalization, publishers worry that machine learning has limits and they’re right,” Brown and Sarantakos wrote. “We have progress to make before we can rely on technology alone to provide a quality news destination.”

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Nonetheless, they suggested that algorithms will be “driving the majority of Facebook News,” and that they’ll be working to ensure that those algorithms are also surfacing “new forms of journalism in the digital age, including individual, independent journalism.”

Also included: a section where users who have linked their news subscriptions to their Facebook accounts can browse content from those subscriptions.

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Facebook News

Which publishers will be included? Brown and Sarantakos said they must be part of Facebook’s News Page Index, and also abide by the company’s Publisher Guidelines, which includes prohibitions against misinformation (as flagged by third-party fact checkers) and hate speech.

Facebook did not provide a list of participating publishers, but screenshots of the News section include stories from The Wall Street Journal, Time, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, Bloomberg, Fox Business, Business Insider, NPR and others; spokespeople for The Post, BuzzFeed and the LA Times confirmed their participation.

So even if publishers have been burned by relying too much on the social network in the past, it sounds like they’re not going to give up on working with Facebook.

It probably helps that the company is paying some of these publishers millions of dollars a year, according to Recode. (A Facebook spokesperson told me, “To ensure we’re including a range of topic areas, we’ll start by paying a subset of publishers who can provide a steady volume of fact-based and original content.”)

BuzzFeed News Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith told me via email that BuzzFeed is “glad to participate” and that “Facebook is taking the lead in recognizing the value news provides to these platforms in a tangible way.”

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And Hillary Manning, the Los Angeles Times’ vice president of communications, said (also via email), “We anticipate that we’ll reach new readers through Facebook News and, as we reach more readers, we expect to see more growth in our digital subscriber base.”

Facebook says News will be available to a limited group of users in the U.S., starting today.

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NEWS

Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.

Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update

On December 1, 2021, Google announced on Twitter that a Product Review update would be rolling out that would focus on English language web pages.

The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.

A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:

“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products.

Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com.

Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”

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Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.

The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.

The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.

The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.

Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Product Review Update Targets More Languages?

The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.

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But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.

This is his question:

“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.

So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.

…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”

John Mueller answered:

“I don’t know… like other languages?

My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.

But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.

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But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.

I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.

But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.

And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.

So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.

But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”

Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?

While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.

Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.

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One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.

It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.

Citations

Google Blog Post About Product Reviews Update

Product reviews update and your site

Google’s New Product Reviews Guidelines

Write high quality product reviews

John Mueller Discusses If Product Reviews Update Is Global

Watch Mueller answer the question at the 14:00 Minute Mark

[embedded content]

Searchenginejournal.com

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