Yahoo Newsroom: Yet another spin on the news feed

Mobile AppsOctober 4, 20166:00 AM PDT

Yahoo really wants to get social.

The internet pioneer's app got a makeover on Tuesday morning, shifting from Yahoo to Yahoo Newsroom, a platform where users can form communities and get into discussions based on topics.

Yahoo rebranded its app as Yahoo Newsroom, where users can follow topics it calls "Vibes."

Courtesy of Yahoo

The topics are categorized as Vibes, and they can be as general as World News or as specific as certain events, like Hoboken Train Crash. The app's algorithm is also supposed to learn based on the articles you click on and the Vibes you interact with, in the hopes that Yahoo Newsroom will eventually automatically cater to your news interests.

Users can also contribute to existing Vibes, with community contributions considered a major aspect of the experience, Dave Bottoms, vice president of Yahoo Media Experiences, said in an interview.

With Likes and Reposts, Yahoo Newsroom takes notes from social networks like Twitter, which for many functions as a newsfeed, as well as Tumblr, the blogging website Yahoo bought for $1.1 billion in 2013.

"As a team, the core platform for us is empowering the community," Bottoms said. "Tumblr is one of the few networks that put the community first ahead of the individual."

Once a leading pioneer of the internet, Yahoo has struggled to hold onto its prominence up against younger websites like Google and Facebook. Verizon bought the company for $4.83 billion in July, with hopes to merge it with AOL, another internet veteran that's seen better days.

Part of Yahoo's rebranding was a new focus on the website as a news resource.

Bottoms called Yahoo Newsroom "community-powered media," but assured there would be checks in place to prevent hoax articles and spam from surfacing to the top of people's feed.

Facebook has struggled with those pitfalls in the past.

When the social media giant dropped its human moderators on August 26 and pushed for a similar community-driven newsfeed mixed with its algorithm, a fake story about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly appeared at the top of the social network's Trending Topics within two days.

This wouldn't happen with Yahoo Newsroom, Simon Khalaf, senior vice president of Yahoo's Publisher Products said. He pointed out that unlike Facebook, Yahoo Newsroom is a dedicated news app, without posts from friends and family to congest the feed.

"The voice of the community is a very strong signal, but it's not the only signal," Khalaf said.

For the rest, he's depending on the algorithm to rank stories based on its sources, compile posts with the same links and weed out any fake news.

The Yahoo app had been confusing to users who assumed they were already getting all of these features.

Screenshot by Alfred Ng/CNET

The algorithm is supposed to push stories up that have the most reactions, while looking for stories users might be interested in based on articles they've interacted with in the past.

The company decided to rename its app after confusion from users. Those who installed the app assumed they were getting the entire package with Yahoo -- email, finances and fantasy sports, along with the news.

Before it was rebooted, Yahoo's app was only news, and prompted users to download separate apps for features like emails and messaging.

"The Yahoo app was a little bit confusing to users to some extent," Bottoms said.

The company is hoping that Yahoo's app revamp will help create new communities around news with its 300 million monthly users.

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