Today, Facebook introduced its brand new, real-time gift to newshounds everywhere. Feast your eyes on FB Newswire, an aggregated feed of only the latest and greatest breaking news stories out there. In other words, Facebook just made its own Twitter — and then gave it a lobotomy.
The new FB Newswire is actually powered by Storyful, a service that's supposed to dig up reliably sourced material for news organisations to use at their leisure. Here, the Storyful team will be pulling newsworthy posts from a variety of Facebook pages, building a stream of reliable, breaking news in (purported) real-time.
More importantly, it's just the latest in a long series of recent Facebook identity crises, like Facebook's disjointed push towards a diaspora of mobile apps. Because just like everything in life, Facebook can't last forever — a fact that the company is painfully aware of. That's why it's been buying up all the companies poised to replace it one day. If Zuck's baby can't be immortal, then he might as well adopt every heir to the throne in sight.
The biggest problem Facebook has been struggling with is bloat. Your News Feed has no doubt become become a sea of baby photos, videos, pictures, inside jokes — virtually everything but news. And to counter that, FB Newswire will be a streamlined selection of all the hard news stories it thinks people actually want to see. FB Newswire is going to attempt to be the signal in some of the noisiest noise there is. It's this kind of reasoning that prompted the ever-controversial News Feed algorithm. And it's this kind of reasoning that nearly guarantees that FB Newswire is doomed to fail.
There's a reason Twitter has arguably become the biggest source of breaking news the world has ever known. It's fast, messy, but totally unfiltered: no one tweet is (theoretically) given any preference over another — it's entirely up to the Twitter masses to decide who they want to listen to and what is worth passing along. Which is not to say that Twitter's system is flawless by any means, but Facebook's attempt emulate that kind of news success with curation completely misses the point. By bringing curation into the mix, Facebook is trying to make its very own Twitter, but without the part that makes Twitter useful.
This new venture is an attempt to make Facebook feel like a primary source, but the second you introduce gatekeeping into the mix, you kill any possibility of that becoming a reality. Users will have to click through the FB Newswire post to reach the actual news they were looking for. It's like having to click through to a tweet before you can click any of its links. It is, by its very nature, just another one of the hundreds of news aggregators out there. It has a huge user-base sure, but it doesn't bring anything else to the table.
What's more, the only way reporters (the new addition's target audience) would get any practical use out of FB Newswire is if they kept that one screen open throughout the day. A screen that, as of now, hasn't been updated in the last hour. In internet time, that's practically an eternity — and god knows how many tweets. The alternative, of course, would be having your Facebook News Feed open all day, which is perhaps one of the worst working environments. Here's a report about Sudan sandwiched between a vaccine truther and someone's cat. Enjoy.
So if reporters aren't using it, that leaves the Facebook masses who are already abandoning ship in droves — and likely already follow the pages Facebook is pulling from anyway. At least the ones they might even begin to care about.
In trying to get an edge on Twitter's ability to feed quick and dirty news to the press, Facebook is really just adding noise to an already deafening world. There's already little inherent value in News Feed because of that noise, and Newswire isn't going to fix it by shouting even more. It doesn't matter what you have to say when no one can hear you screaming in the first place.