Facebook focuses on conversation quality with Branch buy

The world's largest social network wants to improve the content you see in your News Feed, and that includes discussions.

If one of your crazy relatives has ever posted an epic political rant on Facebook, you know that conversations on the social networking site can quickly spiral out of control. You can't take a conversation elsewhere--like off your relative's page, for instance--or start your own subthread. But Facebook has just bought social discussion start-up Branch with an eye toward developing a new product that will--hopefully--change how we talk to each other on Facebook.

Branch founder Josh Miller announced Monday that his eight-person team will join Facebook to form a New York-based Conversations group. The group's mission: "Build Branch at Facebook scale," Miller wrote in a Facebook post. Branch is a private conversation platform that launched in mid-2012 as a way of spinning Twitter banter off into longer, more serious discussions. The invitation-only platform allows users to control the conversations they start, a feature that would be useful on Facebook.

Last year, Branch launched a website and iOS app called Potluck, a self-described "stress-free social network" that lets you post and comment on links. That's it. The app is designed to serve up bits of news and let you meet new people "without being creepy," Miller said at Potluck's launch last June.

Branch and Potluck are about having conversations with friends and with strangers based on thoughtful discussion topics or interesting bits of news. Facebook is trying to diminish the popularity of listicles and memes and boost the quality of the content you see in your News Feed. The social network is also encouraging its users to be more public, removing the option to be hidden in search results and allowing news organizations to embed public conversations on their own sites.

Branch has experience luring news organizations to its platform, and Potluck is built on the concept of sharing news on a mobile app, which both fit nicely with Facebook's current mission. Miller said both services "will live on outside of Facebook," but that doesn't seem very likely given Facebook's track record of bringing its acquisitions entirely into the fold (except, most notably, for Instagram).

Miller said more details about Branch's role at Facebook are forthcoming.

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