Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has often described the role of the site’s News Feed as delivering a “personalized newspaper experience.” The company took a step further in that direction on Thursday by announcing Paper, a new mobile app that brings together a user’s feed updates and third-party content in a digital newspaper or magazine format organized by section.
If that sounds similar to newsreader apps like Flipboad and Zite or Biz Stone’s blogging platform Medium, it’s because it combines elements of these customized news offerings along with its own Facebook-infused slant. Above all, it reflects the company’s recent efforts to provide high-quality content and compete more directly with Twitter as a news source.
Until now, Facebook hasn’t offered a way to organize the vast sea of data moving across its network by distinct categories to make navigation and discovery easier. The sections in Paper span a dozen topics, including food, photography, sports and top headlines. Each features relevant publicly shared posts from across Facebook, along with articles from outside sources, such as The New York Times and National Geographic.
According to a Re/Code report today, those stories won’t only be surfaced algorithmically, but by human editors selecting what they deem the best and most popular ones a user will want to see. That’s a departure from Facebook’s usual machine-driven method.
When it comes to design, Paper promises eye-pleasing packaging and simplified navigation. Users can scroll across the bottom of the screen to browse updates and tilt the screen back to get a better look at high-resolution images too large for smartphone displays. They can also open full stories from outside publishers by “flipping up” magazine-style covers.
The News Feed -- which is the first section a users sees in Paper -- also gets a more attractive layout, with videos and even text posts that render full-screen, and the ability to post photo albums. Facebook wants to ensure that people post high-quality content. In that vein, it allows users to see preview of how their updates will look before going live.
Paper, which will be released initially for the iPhone in the U.S. on February 3, is the first product from Facebook Creative Labs -- small teams designed to work quickly to develop what will be a series of new stand-alone apps from the company. That strategy reflects Facebook’s increasing focus on mobile as more and more of its users access the social network by device.
In announcing fourth-quarter earnings Wednesday, Facebook said it now has 945 million monthly active users, up 39% from a year ago. More than half (53%) of its ad revenue now comes from mobile as well. If Paper doesn’t launch with advertising, it’s a good bet that ads will gradually be rolled out in the app over time, especially if it proves popular.
With flops like its Poke app and the Facebook Home launcher app for Android phones, however, Facebook’s success with Paper is hardly guaranteed. It also faces a crowded field of news aggregation apps, the latest being Yahoo News Digest and Jason Calacanis’ Inside.