Facebook's Trending Articles finds foes among the clutter

Facebook adds articles read by friends to users' News Feeds, building out its Open Graph initiative announced last year. But users are complaining about unwanted posts.

Facebook's new Trending Articles feature. Facebook; screenshot by Jay Greene/CNET

Facebook's new "Trending Articles" feature, which it's been testing for the last few weeks, is already finding critics complaining about clutter in their News Feeds.

The new feature, which adds links to articles that friends have read in their News Feed, is part of a broader effort by Facebook to create what it calls "frictionless" sharing. Media companies that have created apps using the feature include Yahoo and The Guardian, among others.

Mingled among posts from friends about their kids accomplishments or their latest vacation adventures, Facebook is adding links to articles that those friends have read. These aren't articles that friends have specifically called out. They simply read them, while logged into Facebook, on sites, such as Yahoo News or The Guardian, that use the social network's Open Graph news application.

Even in testing, in what appears to be a limited number of users, the Trending Articles feature is already drawing the ire of some Facebook users. On the Facebook community forum, one user wrote, "This feature has been great at keeping me off of Facebook! Great job!"

It's actually the second iteration of Trending Articles. A few weeks back, the original Trending Articles included a large block of several news stories read by friends. That version, too, got savaged by Facebook users.

CNET contacted Facebook for comment. We'll update the story when we get more information.

The argument for Trending Articles, of course, is the notion that Facebook's customers will want to read what their friends have read. It's similar to the idea of adding the music that friends listen to on Spotify to the News Feed. And like Spotify items in the News Feed, users can "hide" items from the various sites. (In Trending Articles, users need to click on the "x" at the top right corner of the item to hide it. For Spotify feeds, users click on a drop-down menu, also at the top right corner of the item.)

Of course, users have the articles they've read posted only if they've agreed to use the Facebook applications do so. Clicking on the link offers users the chance to look at the article only if they download the app, which states clearly that it will post the articles they've read.

Facebook's Trending Articles feature prompts users to add a Yahoo news app in order to read an article that appears in their News Feed. Facebook; screenshot by Jay Greene/CNET

There's a business reason for the new feature. Facebook wants to create a virtuous loop, where its partners benefit from increased traffic to their sites. That boost in traffic should, in turn, draw more companies to Facebook's Open Graph application.

Trending Articles appears to be part of the Open Graph initiative that Facebook announced at its F8 conference in September. At the time, Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg described Open Graph as a way to help people discover music, movies, TV, and news. As automatic sharing apps rolled out, they've quickly found their critics.

It's unclear what Facebook will do with Trending Articles. It's already toned down the feature once. But at least some users continue to complain that they don't like the pollution in their news feeds. From an experience design standpoint, that doesn't bode well. But when a company faces little competitive threat, design often takes a back seat to business imperative.

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