Facebook launches Signal, a tool to help journalists sort through the noise
In keeping with its recent overtures to journalists, Facebook on Thursday launched a new hub with tools designed to help news organizations mine Facebook and Instagram for content and story ideas.
Signal — a nod to the kernel of helpful information often buried in a sea of noise — combines existing and entirely new curation tools from Facebook in a central dashboard, effectively providing a one-stop-shop for social discovery on the company’s two social networks.
Some of the tools in Signal will look familiar. Newswire, a feed of vetted stories trending on Facebook surfaced by the social news agency Storyful, occupies one of three main columns in the dashboard's landing page. Users familiar with CrowdTangle might also recognize the middle column, Trending Posts, which contains a stream of posts that are gathering momentum on Facebook. This feature is offered in partnership with CrowdTangle, the company that has helped BuzzFeed, Vox and others identify posts as that are becoming popular on the social network.
The column on the left of the page should also look familiar. It's occupied by Trending Now, a version of the trending stories sidebar displayed on every Facebook user's homepage. This column also contains popular stories, but with an added twist: Instead of containing topics personalized to each user, it scours Facebook for the most popular topics across the entire social network and displays them in a list. Also new to Trending is a tab for Emerging Trends, which identifies burgeoning stories as they're bubbling up across Facebook.
Signal also includes several tools that haven't been introduced before. Leaderboards, a page that tracks and parses conversation data across thousands of pages, can be used to examine and curate posts around prominent figures like musicians and politicians. The dashboard also allows journalists to save images and posts gleaned from Facebook and Instagram into collections and offers a one-click embedding function.
Signal's debut comes just one week after Facebook opened up its mentions app to journalists and other users with verified profiles and seems to indicate that the social networking giant is placing an increasing emphasis on outreach to news organizations.
Andy Mitchell, director of News and Global Media Partnerships for Facebook, noted that investing in tools for journalists is nothing new for the company.
"News is something that is becoming more core to what we do day in and day out," Mitchell said. "And we've built a lot of tools for publishers over the last 12 or 18 months and even before that...FB Newswire really helped to answer the question we got from journalists on how to source content within Facebook, and this is just more of our investment in the news space."
In advance of today's launch, Facebook made Signal available to several beta testers. Vox.com Engagement Editor Allison Rockey was among the journalists who got a sneak peek at the tool, and she says Vox will continue to use Signal for both audience engagement and newsgathering.
"It's very important for us to give context and background to the biggest news stories of the day," Rockey said. "Our editors are incredibly interested in the questions and conversation that people are having outside of newsrooms and outside of the Beltway. Having insight into what people are discussing and have questions about on Facebook is really helpful."
Post launch, Facebook will likely continue to develop new features for Signal. Since the beta period, the company has heard from journalists who have suggested adding alerts and push notifications to Signal to help call attention to trending conversations as they develop.
Mitchell emphasized that although Signal can help surface topics and conversations that are gathering steam on Facebook, it falls on journalists to determine what's newsworthy and what isn't.
"We are making content that's shared publicly on Facebook accessible, and then it's ultimately up to news organizations and the journalists that work there to determine the newsworthiness and how it fits within the coverage of their news of the day," Mitchell said.