Google may have recently announced a sweet new climate preservation tool, but it has no similar intention of saving the News Feed.
The News Feed isn’t really going away. Not yet. But there is a disconcerting trend in play if you’re a News Feed fan. You might have heard Chris Cox on-stage at F8 talking about how he expects Stories to overtake Facebook's News Feed in sharing some time in the coming year. You might have taken note that, at that same conference, Instagram announced it was revamping its Explore section (marked by the little search magnifying glass in your Instagram dashboard) by creating content topics to make it easier for users to find the content they want.
There's an interesting shift taking place in the way users consume content. And Google just contributed to that shift by announcing that it’s axing Google Feed in favor of a thing called Google Discover.
What is Google Discover?
I thought Google operated on queries? Returning relevant and immediate results based on what I searched for? Doesn’t the query come first?
Until last year, yes.
To trace the origins of Google Feed, you have to go allll the way back to December of 2016. Google launched an update to its app that consisted of an amalgamation of cards aimed at “helping you stay organized and in the know about the things that matter to you.” This consisted, primarily, of a feed that kept you current on your interests: sports, news, entertainment, etc.
You received all this information unsolicited. Pre-search. The idea being that you could still use the Google app even if you didn’t know what you were looking for.
Google then released an update in July of last year. They advanced their machine algorithms to the point of being better able to anticipate what was “interesting and important” to its users. They added a function that allowed users to follow topics they were interested in. The feed was now The Feed.
But now, a little over a year later, Google is putting the Feed out to pasture. In its place stands Discover. And well…they’re kind of similar.
That’s not to say they’re completely similar. Per Google, the change was driven by three fundamental shifts in how we’re going to be thinking about search in the next twenty years: the shift from answers to journeys; from queries to the queryless; and from the text-based to the visually-inspiring. At first blush, Discover seems to accommodate all those concepts. Here are some of the ways it represents a departure from the old Feed.
Like the update to Instagram Explore we discussed a second ago, Discover organizes content into buckets using content headers.
Without a query, Google can’t serve you more relevant content unless it knows what you’re interested in. Click into a topic and you’ll see other related content that lives in that bucket. You’ll also have the option to “follow” that topic; but we’re guessing that whether or not you actually tap “follow,” clicking into a topic will signal Google’s algorithm to start serving it up in your feed (what do we even call this thing anymore, if not a feed?!).
While the Feed dealt primarily in news cycles—recent sports highlights, political happenings, etc.—Discover comes replete with all that great evergreen content we know and love. Per Google: “For example, when you’re planning your next trip, Discover might show an article with the best places to eat or sights to see. Suddenly, a travel article published three months ago is timely for you.”
Sometimes the best answer to a query was published weeks, months, even years ago—and that’s where evergreen content is most certainly useful, and we want it in the equation. But if you’re actively planning a trip, would you rather mindfully search for the activities you want to do, or casually come across travel-related content in your leisure time when you’re just kind of hanging out in your jams? We’ll revisit this.
One other cool feature here: Discover uses the Topic Layer in Knowledge Graph to gather an understanding of your level of expertise when serving you content. So if you’ve been watching video tutorials on how to play “Smoke on the Water” on acoustic…
Discover’s not suddenly going to serve you this dude shredding pentatonic scales. Cool stuff!
Personalized, but not too personalized
Kind of like Pandora, Discover gives you a little “more/less” ticker to click when something does or doesn’t tickle your fancy.
So, if you like herb gardening, the ticker lets you set yourself up to see more herb gardening stuff.
Want to see a little less of your least favorite political pundit or publication? That’s going to be slightly more difficult. Discover uses the same technology as Full Coverage in Google News—so while it’s easy to self-cater your content in general, expect to keep seeing a variety perspectives in the news you consume.
A new homepage!
Let’s be honest…who uses the Google app? That’s not fair—a lot of people do. But a lot of people also use Chrome, or Safari, or some other run-of-the-mill browsing app on their mobile devices. So conceivably, they’d never use or interact with Discover. Until now!
That right there is Google’s new mobile homepage. It will be rolling out in the next few weeks. With it, you have the ability to embark on your search journey via query, or via Discover.
Big Picture Stuff
Now, I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just want to ask a question and get an answer. Sometimes (most of the time) I don’t want to be taken on a journey. I don’t want to take a duck tour across the city. I just want to get in an Uber.
As a guy who has missed the sun go up scrolling through social apps a time or two, it makes sense to me that Google would want to, in some ways, be more like Facebook or Instagram. There’s not a ton of incentive to spend passive time in search. Discover gives "lean-back" consumers, of which there are more and more every day, a platform to gobble up highly-personalized entertainment that has Google’s name on it. Less reading, more watching. Less asking questions, more receiving answers. That’s where this is all heading.
Good or bad? The jury’s still out! As we wrote when the feed came out: being able to target people based on the buckets they click on/follow would be a super powerful tool for advertisers. And with Discover now integrated with the everyday browser, that scenario seems more likely than ever.