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Here’s Notify, Facebook’s New Twitter-Like App for Following Publishers

Facebook is already dominating peoples' phone time, and now it wants a crack at your lock screen, too.

The social network rolled out a new app called "Notify" on Wednesday specifically to send you mobile notifications from publishers you care about, like BuzzFeed or CNN or The Weather Channel. Details about Notify have been leaking to the press for months, and as with other news apps (or Twitter!), users are asked to follow publishers or "stations" which will then push content throughout the day to their phone's lock screens.

Facebook's Notify screens
Source: Facebook
Facebook's Notify screens

The push notifications only include a snippet of information, like a headline, but a link within the notification will send you to the publisher's mobile webpage, which surfaces inside the app. If you don't have time to read something right away, you can save content to read later or share it with others through platforms like — you guessed it — Facebook.

And while there are plenty of news readers out there, including a new one built into iPhones called Apple News, Facebook is adamant that Notify is not a news reader. And that's because you can get all kinds of content on Notify that isn't news, like music videos from Vevo or daily deals from Groupon.

The million-dollar question, then, is why Facebook is building an app for this at all. The company already has News Feed for content discovery and 1.5 billion people who use Facebook every month. Why send people more notifications for the things that, in theory, they could get by following these publishers on Facebook anyway?

The thinking, according to Michael Cerda, product director at Facebook, is that mobile notifications are their own medium, separate from Facebook or any other news consumption platform.

"People have different ways they want to consume information," Cerda told Re/code. "Search is one way. Social is another way. And we think push notifications might be yet another. We see that as an evolving medium and want to be a part of that."

Facebook has more than 70 media partners for Notify, from Comedy Central to Harper's Bazaar, all of which control the content they push out to their followers. The benefit to these partners is obvious: It's an easy new way to get content in front of people without the same competition that comes with posting in a person's Facebook or Twitter feed. When users click on a link, they are brought to the publisher's app or mobile webpage, not to Facebook, meaning publishers still get the clicks and ad impressions they cherish.

The benefits to Facebook are less obvious, at least at launch. Facebook isn't driving traffic to its site, although in theory you may share more to Facebook as a result. It's also not making money from the app, and Cerda claims the thought hasn't even crossed his mind yet. (We think the idea of a "sponsored" station or publisher might make sense down the road.) But if Facebook really believes that push notifications are a major consumption vehicle, then Notify is a chance to assert itself with a presence on your lock screen, and it's using content from the world's best publishers to do so.

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Whether or not people actually want more content on their lock screen is another issue. Push notifications, for many people, are already overwhelming. It's likely that people already receive push notifications from the publishers they truly care about. If you love push notifications from the New York Times for example, you've probably taken the time to download the NYT app.

If you don't want push notifications all day long, then there are other, less intrusive ways to follow publishers you care about, like Twitter or Facebook. These sites still keep you informed, but at arms length, on your time. So while Notify is great for publishers, it's unclear which consumers will use it. Push notification enthusiasts already have their setup in place, and push notification avoiders aren't looking for an app like this to begin with.

One small thing worth noting: Vevo is one of the partners, a music company closely tied to Google and YouTube. The two sides don't have a stellar relationship, and there has been some speculation that Vevo and others in the music industry might move to Facebook in the next year. So while this partnership is far from that it is, at the very least, a symbolic gesture.

Notify launches Wednesday in the U.S. and only on iOS. More publishers and more countries are coming in the future.