Facebook tests ‘trending articles’ feature to encourage users to try social reader apps

Facebook appears to be testing new feature to highlight social reader articles within users’ News Feeds.

Some users now see a “trending articles” section of their feeds that includes headlines, thumbnail images and the first 130 characters of a story. This aggregation is larger and more disruptive than others Facebook has tested to drive users to Open Graph news applications. A thick grey bar separates the stories from others in users’ feeds, and surprisingly, the unit prominently features article thumbnails rather than photos of a user’s friends. Although links include the name of a friend who read the story, it’s unclear what actually makes an article qualify as “trending.” All in all, it feels out of place in the feed and might work better as part of a separate dashboard, similar to what the social network provides for music.

The version of “trending articles” we saw did not include icons to suggest that clicking on an article might lead that activity to be shared on a user’s own Timeline. Facebook was testing that feature last week to make users aware of their privacy settings before they read an article through a social reader application. It would be useful in this new aggregation so that users don’t accidentally share activity they didn’t mean for their friends to see.

Update 4/18/12 10:36 a.m. – We’ve now seen the trending articles feature in the mobile feed and it seems to be a better visual fit than the desktop version. Users see a single thumbnail and headline, along with a photo of a friend who read an article, and they can swipe forward to view more articles. Here is a screenshot mid-swipe.

Update 4/25/12 1:54 p.m. PT – Facebook appears to be testing a new version of the trending articles feature for the desktop News Feed. This design is similar to the mobile one in that only one article is visible at a time, making it less disruptive than the previous iteration. Users can click an arrow to see more suggested stories. The unit still feels like a departure from the lightweight, friends-focused design of the rest of News Feed.