February 25, 2019

An Inside Look at Facebook's Engineering News Team in NYC

Facebook recently announced a $300 million investment over the next three years in news initiatives, with a focus on local news partnerships and other programs. We connected with members of the team to get an inside look at the engineering organization that powers Facebook's News products. 

Are you interested in joining the team? Click here for a list of the current job openings at Facebook.

Can you share the details on the mission behind Facebook’s News team?

Facebook’s News Team is based in New York, and is focused on building news products for both people and publishers in support of a more informed community. People come to Facebook to connect and feel part of a community, and news is one important way they can connect with others.

What are some of the projects that the News engineering is working on?

Breaking News, Today In, news ranking in Feed and Instant Articles.

What is Facebook’s “Today In” product?

‘Today In’ is a local community product that was created at Facebook New York, and it connects people to news and information about their community. You can also easily see highlights of the most popular updates from Today In by opting-in to receive daily updates in News Feed. It’s officially launched in 400 US cities. Unlike News Feed, which is personalized and ranked for each person based on who they’re connected to and what they’ve chosen to follow, the Today In section shows everyone in a given city the same content, allowing people to see multiple perspectives around issues in their area.

‘Today In’ auto-detects content in specific cities and regions, and curates the materials in the following sections:

  • Weather
  • Top posts from pages in the select area
  • Recent news articles from local publications
  • Upcoming local events
  • Current discussions happening in local groups
  • School announcements in their area
  • Local group suggestions to connect with neighbors
  • Local sports

Right now, we’re focused on small-medium sized cities, defined as having under 500K monthly active Facebook users. This is because we’ve done research that suggests that people living in cities this size may have greater demand for local news and community information. It’s also more complex to autodetect news in bigger cities, and the team is looking to expand and launch in urban areas in 2019.

What are some of the technical issues that the engineering team has to tackle for building such a complex product like “Today In”?

Every day, the engineers on the ‘Today In’ team tackles questions like:

  • What are boundaries for news based on where you live?
  • How do we bootstrap the idea of neighborhoods?
  • How do we ensure stories about national news from local sources are not pulled into the surface?

As the team continues to test and refine the product, there are a number of areas we’re excited to continue exploring. For example, we’ve been partnering with over 100 first responder pages in 83 cities and counties, like police departments, fire departments, and city and county governments, to test local alerts, a special, time-bound indicator that can be applied to a Page’s Facebook posts to communicate urgent information. As more government Pages are brought into the local alert program, the Today In section will be a natural place to show these updates, in addition to News Feed and in Facebook’s notifications.

When you are hiring for this team, what types of backgrounds do you generally look for?

On this team, we’re always looking for engineers that are passionate about solving complex, technical challenges, as well as inspired to take innovative approaches to building community and bringing the world closer together. Along with engineers, the Facebook News Team includes designers, product managers, data scientists and researchers. Our colleagues have backgrounds in financial services, consumer products, journalism, and artificial intelligence. We also collaborate with Facebook product teams around the world, including Feed Integrity, AI Labs, Search, and Feed Ranking. This speaks to the company’s strengths-based approach, which means we’re focused on designing roles, teams and an organization that helps people do work they’re naturally great at and love doing. People perform better if they’re doing work that fits their strengths, and we spend time working with people to shape their experience at the intersection of what people love, what they’re great at, and what Facebook needs.

Keith Cline is the Founder of VentureFizz.  Follow him on Twitter: @kcline6.