In this age of information overload, information providers and social networks are competing to provide just the highlights that you want, when you want them. News outlets send alerts with breaking news and editors’ picks of top stories. Twitter curates top tweets, organized by subject, into collections it calls Moments. Weather apps warn you of rain minutes before the droplets arrive.
Now Facebook, whose popular social network uses an inscrutable algorithm to predict which posts from friends and organizations you most want to see, is trying to corral the highlights and bulletins you receive from other services into one place. On Wednesday, it introduced a new iPhone app called Notify that it says will deliver “timely notifications about the things that matter to you, from the sources you love, all in one place.”
The Notify app is separate from the main Facebook service, although users must have a Facebook account to log in. Notify’s primary purpose is to let you sort through and choose to receive mobile-device notifications from various news and information sources on specific topics. If you want final scores or live updates from a San Francisco 49ers games, for example, Fox Sports lets you sign up for those. Dying to know what the cover stories are in the latest issue of Vogue? Those, too, are available as alerts. There is even a daily meditation from Headspace.
The notifications are delivered to your iPhone just like any other notification, meaning they show up on some of the most valuable real estate on today’s smartphones: the lock screen that appears when a phone has been idle for a while. The app also shows users all of their recent and saved notifications.
“This is a central place you can go where you can build a notification experience that works for you,” Julian Gutman, the Notify product manager, said in an interview.
There are about 70 content partners participating, including big broadcasters, like ABC and Fox News; lifestyle publications like Bon AppÃ©tit and Thrillist; business news outlets like Bloomberg and MarketWatch; The Weather Channel; and the daily deals site Groupon. The New York Times is also a partner. In some cases, you can customize the alerts by your location, for things like weather or local news.
Facebook envisions adding partners, including commercial partners like retailers, as it works out the kinks in the service, which initially will be available only in the United States. Currently, advertisements cannot be sent as notifications, although it is easy to imagine how Facebook could eventually slip in some commercials, as it does with its Instagram photo-sharing service or the news feed in its core social network.
Facebook’s other recent initiative to court content creators, called Instant Articles, hosts articles on its social network to speed them up. Notify is more traditional â the partner organizations write the notification text and add a link to a mobile website of their choosing.
The idea of pushing information to Internet users, instead of asking them to pull up information through a browser or an app, has been around since the early days of the Internet. PointCast, for example, offered a push information service that was popular in 1996 and 1997, back when most Internet users were on dial-up connections. Many modern apps use push notifications heavily, including the recommendation service Foursquare and Facebook itself.
More recently, the introduction of the Apple Watch spurred a new round of interest in notifications as a canvas unto themselves, instead of as just a way to alert people to content in other apps. Niche apps like Yo and IFTTT use notifications at the core of their services. Apple and Google are also building more notifications into their smartphone operating systems that seek to anticipate what each user will want next.
Facebook says Notify is a way to experiment with the notification format and to provide a simple tool to help other companies deliver the right information at the right time.
“It’s the most intimate way for you and the information you’re interested in to connect,” said Michael Cerda, a director of product management at Facebook who works on new media products.