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Pulse News Reader Dips Its Toes Into Social With New “Highlights” Feature

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For over two years, Pulse has been providing its over 20 million users with an easy way to read content from blogs and social networks. While other services like Flipboard and Zite used social updates and complicated algorithms to present users with a personalized view of the world, the Pulse team eschewed these ideas and stuck with a more traditional model of presenting you unfiltered feeds. Now, however, the company is slowly dipping its toes into social by adding “Pulse Highlights,” a feature that puts a focus on the stories your friends have shared on the service and on Facebook.

This new feature will be available in the Android app today. The updated iOS app is currently in the approval process and should be available later this week.

In the app, users will now see when one of their Facebook friends has also shared the same story they are currently reading (and you can, of course, also share stories back to Facebook and Twitter, or just on Pulse). In addition, a new “Highlights” section in the app will highlight the stories your friends have shared.

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As Pulse co-founder Akshay Kothari told me earlier this week, the emphasis here should be on stories that your close network shared with you. People, he believes, have always come to the app to read content from sites they trust, but now they will also be able to discover new sources and stories that they probably would have missed in their regular Facebook streams.

“We’ve always been good at providing you with really good things to read,” Kothari said. “But now we are also getting into discovery.” Pulse Highlights, he also noted, lets you take your Facebook feed and “remove the fluff.” The other good thing about using Facebook, Kothari said, is that you will even see recommendations if none of your friends use Pulse itself (though he hopes that the Facebook connection will give Pulse users a reason to get their friends on the social network to try it, too).

The company started experimenting with social and algorithm-based recommendations about a year ago. The team was neither impressed with an approach purely based on how popular a post was on social networks (what does it really mean, after all, when a story gets 500 Facebook likes?) and its forays into purely algorithmic solutions similar to Zite also didn’t quite pan out because its beta testers were never quite sure why they were seeing a certain article. With Highlights, Pulse argues, “discovery is about people: close friends and family sharing content that’s interesting and relevant for you.”

In the long run, Pulse hopes to build upon this foundation with more granular sharing options and the ability to not just highlight a complete story but also just parts of it. Pulse also expects that this new sharing data will be useful for the advertisers on the service, who will now be able to get a better idea of how their content is doing on the service.

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