Hands-on with Facebook Notify, a news app without the app

By cutting away everything but notifications, Facebook’s latest app is either brilliantly efficient or your worst nightmare.

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Credit: Facebook

It’s hard to believe people are clamoring for more push notifications from their phones, but that’s exactly what Facebook is delivering with a new iPhone app called Notify.

At its core, Facebook Notify is an app for staying informed. But instead of coming up with a pretty interface for reading, like Flipboard or Facebook’s own Paper, Notify is little more than a vessel for notifications, which pop up on your lock screen or swoop down over whatever else you might be doing.

Here’s how it works: When you first load the app—and sign into your Facebook account—Notify asks you to pick a few categories of interest. These can include breaking stories from news organizations, sports scores, local happenings, and the weather.

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Choose wisely; these alerts will show up on your lock screen.

After you’ve made some selections, you’re taken to a list of all recent notifications. Tapping on any one brings up the story in a web view. You can also bookmark important notifications for later, hide notifications from a particular source, and, of course, share to social networks such as Facebook.

Although the idea of willfully adding notifications to your phone by the handful sounds frightening, there’s some logic to what Facebook is doing here. Notify provides a centralized way to stay informed while making it easy to filter out unwanted alerts. The controls are more granular than a full-blown news app, letting you control notifications down to the individual source. And compared to the master notification controls in iOS Settings, the focus here is on news and information, so there’s less to sift through.

It’s also nice to get notifications from services like Groupon, Eater, and BandsInTown without having to install their respective apps. Chances are, you already have too many apps that you barely use. Notify provides just the alerts, so you needn’t give up yet more storage and home screen space.

That’s not to say Facebook Notify is flawless. The category picker could use a search function, and this need will likely become more urgent as more sources become available. And for local categories such as news in your city, restaurant openings, and things to do, most of the current sources are focused on major cities. I’m getting an inferiority complex from my post in Cincinnati.

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There's no way to search by name when adding new categories.

Down the road, perhaps Facebook could also bring its Instant Articles into the app. The current reliance on standard web pages feels a bit crude.

Overall, though, Facebook Notify is not the terror I feared it would be when I first downloaded it onto my iPhone. Rather than contributing to notification overload, Notify could be a much-needed source of relief.

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