Facebook kills its ‘Trending’ section

Facebook really doesn’t want to be a media company. The social network announced this morning it’s removing its often controversial “Trending” section from its site next week, in order to make way for “future news experiences,” it says. These experiences include things like a dedicated section for news videos on its video hub Facebook Watch, a breaking news label publishers can use on their posts, and a dedicated section called “Today In” which connects people to news and information from local publishers in their city along with updates from local officials and organizations.

Over 80 news publishers are currently testing the “breaking news” label, which allows them to opt to flag their Instant Articles, mobile and web links, and Facebook Live video as breaking news, the company tells us.

Facebook says that the early results from this testing have led to a 4 percent lift in click-through rates, a 7 percent lift in Likes, and an 11 percent lift in shares. The product is still in what Facebook calls “alpha” testing, which indicates it’s very early days for this feature – an alpha test precedes a beta test, which itself is ahead of a public launch.

Meanwhile, the “Today In” feature is in testing in 33 U.S. cities across the U.S.

Facebook says publishers featured in this section are seeing an average of an 8 percent incremental increase in distribution – meaning outbound clicks.

The company didn’t provide a time frame for when Facebook’s news-focused video hub would go live, but said that “soon” 10 to 12 U.S. publishers will be launching news shows in Watch, focused on live coverage of breaking events, daily shows and weekly shows. These efforts will be funded by Facebook itself, the company said. However, the company declined to provide a list of publishers or details on the funding.

The changes arrive at a time when Facebook has been held accountable for allowing the spread of fake news across its network, and it has responded with a host of fake news-fighting features like fact checking, adding publisher context, the addition of related articles, shrinking fake news in the News Feed, and other initiatives.

However, the “Trending” section in particular has been a source of concern ever since the company fired its Trending editors, leaving the selection of stories to its algorithms. And, because algorithms are not perfect, they repeatedly goofed up, allowing fake news stories to spread across the network by highlighting factually inaccurate links that were going viral as well as other inappropriate content.

Even as Facebook addressed the issues around fake news, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stuck to his belief that Facebook itself is not a “media company”– something he’s been saying for years. When recently testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he insisted again that Facebook is a tech company.

“I consider us to be a technology company because the primary thing that we do is have engineers who write code and build product and services for other people,” he told Congress.

And in nearly the same breath, he then went on to admit that Facebook pays to “help produce content” – as it’s doing now with these new news videos.

It’s unusual for a site that’s used for search, like Facebook, to not manage a trending section. Google offers a whole suite of products around tracking trends, and Twitter offers trends, even down to a local level.

Facebook didn’t announce any plans to bring back Trending, or some version of it in the future.

Trending is being pulled from Facebook next week and it will also remove products and third-party partner integrations that rely on the Trends API, the company said.

“People tell us they want to stay informed about what is happening around them,” wrote Alex Hardiman, Head of News Products at Facebook, in an announcement. “We are committed to ensuring the news that people see on Facebook is high quality, and we’re investing in ways to better draw attention to breaking news when it matters most,” Hardiman said.

Real Vision, a media platform for finance and business, raises $10 million

Real Vision is entering the crowded business and financial new space with a bang. The company, which recently raised a $10 million Series B after a $5 million A, is working on a number of new initiatives including distribution on Apple TV, a content distribution partnership with Thomson Reuters and an upcoming documentary on PBS.

The documentary, “A World on the Brink,” will focus on threats to the global economy. The team is aiming at viewers ages 36-45 instead of the older Boomers who prefer cable financial news far.

“Unlike most video-based media businesses where short-form video is deemed to have the highest user engagement, Real Vision have found that almost 70% of their customers who start a half, or an hour-long, video will watch all of it. This engagement in long-form content is breaking boundaries within the industry,” said co-founder and CEO Raoul Pal. “Sensationalism and clickbait is at an all-time high. Traditional financial news has continued to degenerate into attention-seeking sound bites that are at best of little value and at worst, downright dangerous.”

Pal worked at Goldman Sachs before moving into media.

“I lamented on the state of financial media – how it had let the ordinary person down repeatedly in 2000 and 2008 and was busy treating finance as entertainment and not taking into account that this was peoples live savings they were dealing with. I also noted how far financial programming had become versus the fast-changing world of on line video. Viewing habits and content types were changing but the financial TV incumbents hadn’t changed,” he said “I decided that it was time for someone to disrupt the way in which television worked – particularly with regard to financial and business information.”

The team will use the cash to create programming aimed at “those who want to create new business opportunities and startups, manage new enterprises and leverage new technology.” The videos can run as long as 90 minutes but usually hit the five to thirty-minute mark. They are also distributing their content to Thomson Reuters . It uses a subscription-based model and costs $180 annually.

The team met at a bar in Jesus Pobre, Spain. Pal and his co-founder Damian Horner found each other during their travels and had drinks at a place called Rosita’s where Horner, a former ad exec, learned of Pal’s experience in finance and they both mapped out a new type of online news channel with some real energy. Thus was born a model that mixes on-demand with high-impact news, something that few cable stations can manage.

“Almost all traditional media outlets rely on an ever-dwindling advertising revenue model. Real Vision is subscription-based and built that way from the ground up,” said Pal. “Most media business are still trying to figure out a subscription model to diversify away from advertising. In a highly competitive digital world, the pressure ‘to get clicks’ has a massive impact on the tone, direction and quality of the editorial content itself. Real Vision’s subscriber model means there is no need to sensationalize, no dumbing down of ideas, no incessant ‘breaking news’ headlines, no clickbait soundbites and no cutting things short for commercial breaks.”

Tech4Reporters pitches a new hub for journalists to connect with tech experts

 Technology reporting has become a function of every single major news beat these days. From politics to crime, business and finance to entertainment, it’s increasingly important that reporters get a good grounding in the technology that’s transforming their beats to avoid basic errors. For John Biggs, an editor-at-large here at TechCrunch, the problem became so acute in the… Read More