Owners of iOS and Android run devices, fear no more the chaos of today’s avalanche of information, nor the redundancy of endless and irrelevant news influx. Google is here to smooth things out.
With your search history, a surprisingly vivid portrait of your current hobbies and your deepest darkest secrets, Google is ready to customize the news feed sent to your smartphone, tablet or laptop. That feed of personalized stream of articles, videos, and other content will appear in its flagship app for Android and iOS. And it will simply be called Google.
Think of it as Google’s answer to Facebook’s News Feed, only instead of updates from friends, you’ll see links to content Google thinks will interest you.
The feed itself is a mix of cards with links to news stories, YouTube videos, sports scores, recipes and other content based on what Google’s determined you’re most likely to be interested in at that particular moment.
If that sounds familiar, that’s because the concept of a personalized feed to accompany search isn’t entirely new. The search giant has tinkered with various versions of a feed for years — most notably with Google Now, which created a similar interest-based feed as well as proactive suggestions based on what was in your inbox or on your calendar.
Although the new feed may look similar to what’s been in the Google app for some time, the company says it’s much more than a repackaged Google Now. For one, it’s gotten far more intelligent, according to Vice President of Engineering Shashi Thakur.
He says the feed can now discern the difference between topics that are new interests and those that you’ve been following for a long time.
When surfacing news stories with “multiple viewpoints,” it will attempt to showcase “diverse perspectives” and highlight relevant fact checks, when available, he says. (Consider this Google’s apparent solution to that pesky filter bubble problem.)
The feed is primarily driven by your search history, but your prior searches aren’t the only factors that determine what you’ll see. It also takes into account your location, videos you’ve watched on YouTube, and details it knows based on info from other Google services.
If, for instance, you’re planning a trip, the feed can surface an article relevant to your destination and your interests. You can also choose to follow specific topics from within search results.
Of course, there could be potential downsides to this kind of hyper-personalization.
There’s a good chance your Google search history is home to at least a few embarrassing or sensitive details that you may not want to be front and center each time you launch a search [pro tip: incognito mode is your friend]. This could be particularly embarrassing if you’re in the habit of mixing work and personal accounts.
Google says it has a plan to address these types of issues. Besides being able to explicitly unfollow a given topic, the app will automatically block certain types of content from appearing in the feed, like porn and hate speech.
A company spokesperson also said that certain “sensitive interests” — like those relating to sexual orientation and religion — will also not be used in the feed.
You could also opt-out of the feed experience entirely.
Google would prefer that you didn’t, of course. While it may not seem like a huge update — depending on how much you use the Google app, you may not even notice the feed at first — Google clearly has big plans for the feature.
In a demo at Google’s offices in San Francisco on Tuesday, a product manager’s feed included articles about the Oakland Athletics, a trending article about the Tour de France, and a 10-month-old blog post about a classical musician who she had previously seen in concert.
In most feeds, a 10-month-old blog post would appear stale and unwelcome. Google says it’s a sign of the company’s strengths — it can reach into the long tail of articles on the web, and surface them to audiences that missed them the first time around. Facebook and Twitter are known for giving priority to latest updates. Google says it’s working to prioritize relevance.
Another contrast highlighted in this update is the notably little emphasis Google feed, at least at launch, is putting on videos. At a time when its peers are racing to cram as much video in their feeds as possible, Google’s is still mostly a text-based affair. When YouTube cards appear, videos won’t play within the feed — tapping kicks you out to the app or to a mobile-web version of the video. The cards are formatted in such a way that it’s easy to miss that they’re even videos. It’s all surprisingly clumsy.
One more surprise emerging from this Google version is that there won’t be ads in the feed. But, we all know that Google is an ad business. After all, it’s running out of places to put new ads on mobile devices. Maybe, the company is finally less inclined to fill apps with ads. Especially when native apps from Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and others command more of users attention, making them less likely to begin their queries at the search bar. More recently, Siri, Alexa, and Cortana have been built into users device hardware, allowing them to bypass Google and search with their voice.
Google will roll out the feed to browsers later this year.