Google rolled out an updated version of its news feed Wednesday in the Google app that uses machine learning to create customized collections of news stories based both on your search history and topics of your choosing.
A limited version of the feed was introduced in December for Android users, but Google added a few new features in Wednesday’s update and expanded it to iOS, Apple’s operating system.
Now, the stories that appear will be affected by what’s trending in your geographic location (provided you share it with Google.) Also, you can exert some control over what appears in your feed by “following” certain subjects or personalities.
If you’re interested in “Game of Thrones,” for example, just search for that phrase and click the “follow” button.
If you’re tired of a certain topic popping up on your feed, like perhaps “Donald Trump,” you can tell Google to stop showing stories about him in your feed.
Finally, Google will choose stories based on the topics for which you’ve been searching.
For example, if you spend your spare time reading about the band Waxahatchee or searching for antique clock parts, then news items and blog posts about those topics will appear in your feed — even if you don’t follow them yourself. The stories don’t have to be recent, either. If Google decides you’d love an interview with Waxahatchee from 2015 or a blog post on restoring old clocks from 2011, those will pop up on your feed.
Don’t worry if you spend your time searching for more adult content or frantically Googling symptoms in hopes of self-diagnosing a potential illness. Upsetting and mature content will not appear on the feeds, Google said.
“Google search should be working for you in the background even when you’re not searching,” Ben Gomes, vice president of engineering for Google search, said during a news conference as reported in multiple news outlets. “It should be looking for information on the Web to give you information that’s important and relevant for you to further the interest that you have.”
Currently, the feed is only on mobile devices, but soon it will appear on Google’s main Web page, which has long been iconic for its minimalism — usually displaying just a logo, a Google Doodle and the search function.
Google clearly takes the new product seriously, inviting journalists in California to product launch and spending a bit more time than usual on its news release, which was titled “Feed your need to know,” and began and ended with a quote from Dr. Seuss.
“As the late, great Dr Seuss once said, ‘there is no one alive who is you-er than you.’ At Google, we know this statement is truer than true,” it began. Then it closed with, “We’ll leave you with some final words from Dr. Seuss: ‘The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.’”
The obvious upside here for Google is directly stated in the news release: “The more you use Google, the better your feed will be.”
As the world and your interests change, your feed will continue to grow and evolve along with you. You’ll notice that your feed will also reflect your interest level for various topics — for example, if you’re a photography enthusiast but just casually interested in fitness, your feed will show that.
“Learning about a topic doesn’t happen with a single query,” Gomes said. “Learning about a topic is a process that happens over time.”
The feed is designed to encourage you to spend more time on the Google app rather than just using it for searches.
It combines the two functions as well, allowing you to click on certain topics to immediately perform a Google search for that item. If you’re reading news about Vladimir Putin, you can click on his name to perform a search.
The newly updated feed brings Google one step closer to competing with Facebook’s news feed, which is tailored to users based on “your connections and activity” on the social media site, meaning it bases its feed both on the stories your friends share and which of those you click on, according to its online help center.
Though the similarities are clear, Google employees were “adamant that this news feed is nothing like Facebook’s News Feed,” Wired reported. Such insistence may be in part because Facebook’s feed has often been called an “echo chamber” and accused of helping reinforce beliefs by only sharing stories that share an ideological viewpoint with the user.
Unlike Facebook’s feed, though, the Google feed won’t be affected by what your friends on social media read, share or like.
“This feed is really about your interests — it’s not really about what your friends are interested in, which is what other feeds do,” Gomes said. “It’s about learning something and taking it a step further… It’s built on search. All the things we do in search will carry over.”
The Facebook News Feed has also been accused of disseminating fake news, a problem that only grew after Aug. 26, 2016, when “Facebook laid off its editorial team and gave the engineers who replaced them a much different mandate when it came to vetting news,” as The Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey reported.
Seemingly as a nod to Facebook’s troubles, Google promised in its news release that “when available, you’ll be able to fact check and see other relevant information to help get a more holistic understanding about the topics in your feed.”
“They’ve been trying to do this a long time,” Greg Sterling, a U.S. search engine analyst, told the Financial Times. Especially given that most people no longer use Google on their computers, where they might spend long periods of time sifting through information. Instead, a “vast majority” of Google searches take place on mobile devices.
“The needs and expectations of users have changed,” Sterling added. This new feed might be a way of meeting those expectations.
For now, it is only available in the United States but will be rolled out internationally during the next several weeks.