Facebook's Notify, an app that pushes news alerts to your lockscreen, can sometimes be a headache. But when it comes to breaking news, this little app proves its worth.
At first, I almost dismissed the app as too niche and kind of annoying when it launched a few weeks back. After all, who but media professionals wanted a never-ending stream of headlines appearing on their lockscreen all day? In the three weeks that I've been using Notify, however, a series of (unfortunately depressing) world events and important news stories showed how useful Notify can be.
Now, Notify is frequently my first alert to breaking news.
What Is It?
Notify is a free, standalone app from Facebook, currently only available for iPhone, that pushes notifications of stories from select sources. Currently, you can only choose to be notified by Facebook-partnered media companies.
There's a pretty broad range of content providers, from The Washington Post to the History Channel to Bandsintown (alas, Gizmodo is not included — more on this later). You can elect to get notifications on topics like the weather, sports scores, local music shows, or all the breaking news you can handle. You can also select distinct categories, like a certain column you love from WaPo or one section pruned from Buzzfeed's massive stable of internet edibles.
Facebook is trying to move into the news-providing space that Twitter's typically dominated for almost a decade. It's also looking to compete with Google News in terms of curating content specific to your interests. The question here is, how is does Facebook make something that actually useful for you?
Notify is a simple app without any bells or whistles. When you open the app after installing and choosing your desired news sources, the default "home" screen shows your most recent alerts for the last 24 hours. If you subscribe to a bunch of channels like I did, better start saving stuff that seems interesting — there's no way to scroll back past the 24-hour mark. You can save by swiping left on a notification.
A bookmark tab displays any alerts that you have saved for posterity or future reading. Under the settings screen, you can see "your stations" and change your notification settings. The home screen just looks like a feed, and there's nothing that would indicate its connection to Facebook besides your profile picture displayed on the settings screen. While it's pretty easy to share links you click through with social networks, the app isn't obnoxious about pushing this option. In fact, the process is a bit antiquated — I had to re-sign into Facebook within Notify's native browser even though the Facebook app is open on my phone.
Notify is easy to set up and use. Whether the outlets you select actually push content to the app is another matter and pretty much out of your control. Some of the media selections I toggled "On" have never seemed to appear on Notify, while others send me updates with overwhelming regularity. Beware of asking for breaking news or top stories unless you really, really mean it. You have the option to change notifications settings, like turning off notification sounds, showing the alerts on lock screen, and using location data, so you can cut down significantly on potential notifications overload.
When you want to access a notification, either on your notifications screen or inside the app itself, tapping on it opens the article within Notify's native browser. Swiping left on the notification gives you the option to share, save, or X out of it entirely. You can also share the article from Notify's browser to social media channels or via text or email, although this has occasionally proved buggy. Clicking on the "email" envelope icon doesn't work for me, regardless of article.
If you email the link via other share options, it's a link to a Notify page that you have to click through in your browser to access the article. It's essentially a giant Notify ad.
To be honest, when I first started testing Notify, I was confused who the app meant for. It seemed mostly a tool for an app for the news obsessed and not the news inclined. Most people who work outside of media probably aren't interested in their phone buzzing nonstop with headline alerts, which is exactly what happens if you select top stories and breaking news. Some outlets are constantly pushing out content at all hours.
On my third day of using Notify, however, Paris was attacked. The app's usefulness was immediate. I began receiving a stream of breaking news and updates. Every time I pulled out my phone, links to the most recent news on the horrific ordeal were waiting for me. Unlike trying to wade through Twitter, the articles Notify pushed contained confirmed information and not unsourced speculation. I could easily see people turning on Notify's alerts during an ongoing news event like this, then turning them back off again afterwards. As a journalist, Notify has been useful, alerting me to breaking stories and tech articles that I actually want to read. For the regular newsreader, it's cool to be able to curate a feed of select content from some of your preferred outlets. Notify is pretty customisable with its provided sources, so if you want to skip the news entirely and only receive alerts about Getty Image flashbacks and HULU TV moments, you can do that.
Notify would be much more desirable if it allowed you to add content sources of your choosing, RSS-style, which even Apple's new News app lets you do. Obviously, I wish that Gizmodo was on there or could be easily added, but I also visit a ton of other sites every day that are nowhere to be seen.
The app also would be better served if you could scroll back past the 24-hour mark to older notifications.
While I purposefully turned on many "channels" and left the default "ons" in place for the purpose of testing, the sheer volume of notifications can be hard to handle and shows the perils of turning too much on. My phone buzzes all day and night, and the lockscreen is soon swamped with Notify content, obscuring other stuff like, you know, missed calls and text messages. It'd be nice if Facebook could automate when Notify can send notifications. During the workday, yes please. 2am on a Tuesday? GTFO.
An app for Android would be nice.
Should You Use It?
Do you love news? Do you really, really love news? The give it a shot. If you can never get enough content, you'll learn to love these never-ending alerts.
Obviously, Notify will appeal to a niche base of users. I've gotten used to it, and I plan to keep it on my phone, but I'm going to cut back to a handful of sources. And I'm crossing my finders that one day Facebook will lower the content gates and make the app truly customisable.
[Free - iOS]