It’s been a couple days since Facebook launched Paper for iPhone into the US iTunes Store. I had a look around the web to see what was being said, and what this app means for the largest Social Media network on the planet.
Is it going to significantly change the way people use Facebook or any other app? Will it alter the digital landscape or fulfil an existing function on a scale so many magnitudes better than existing services that it may as well be something new? Probably not.However, Paper may very well be remembered as the turning point where Facebook’s move towards putting mobile at the centre of its existence changed from a whisper to a roar. Even if the app doesn’t succeed as intended, it could spur a shift in thinking and direction that we all get swept up in.
What is Paper?
It’s a magazine app, focused on content consumption, with Facebook’s basic functionality lurking just below the surface. It makes no bones about putting stories front and centre. It does so in a very aesthetically pleasing, user friendly UX. All good boxes to tick, but nothing earth shattering.
Is it a Flipboard killer?
Visually, it’s reminiscent of the Google+ app and of course, Flipboard. In fact, most articles about the app reference Flipboard somewhere, perhaps spurred by the similarity in function and styling. There are critical differences though. Wall Street Journal and Mashable have both done side by side comparisons, looking at usability, aesthetics and function. Wall Street Tech writer Geoffrey Fowler concludes that from a news discovery perspective he prefers Flipboard, while Mashable scribe Karissa Bell points out that they are fundamentally different: Paper is curating content while Flipboard aggregates it. They look similar, but they aren’t necessarily vying for the same role in a user’s digital quiver. Flipboard has at least 100 million users. These guys probably won’t bail it for Paper. But will Facebook users who adopt Paper bother looking any further?
Best feature: Save for Later!
One of my biggest frustrations with Facebook has been the lack of a Save For Later function on the mobile version. I like to use Pocket. Twitter makes curating content for delayed consumption so easy, whereas the Facebook app had a use it or lose it approach that often meant I missed content I potentially wanted to absorb later on. The content-is-king approach means they have acknowledged that reading patterns aren’t linear, and the app allows you to curate and stockpile reading material. This is a major win. In fact, it’s for this function alone I will probably use Paper more than the regular Facebook app.
Putting stories front and centre is nothing new. Mark Zuckerberg said as much last year when he announced that Facebook wanted to be like the best newspaper ever. And that says a lot. They took a long time to do this. You can read a first hand account of the project from one of the engineers involved on Quora. A far cry from the “Move fast and break things” motto that has been the driving philosophy to date. A lot of that could be attributed to the team of engineers, lead by Mike Matas, that put this together. A large portion of them are backed by significant experience at that bastion of design and thoroughness, Apple. They didn’t rush, and they didn’t deviate from a very simple objective. Paper is significant because of how it applies that philosophy.
Your profile and network becomes an enabler rather than sitting front and centre. The platform is decidedly mobile centric, and the approach is slow and deliberate. They’ve clearly delivered: Paper in-arguably takes the focus off the interface and puts it squarely on the content. While it’s currently ad-free and the curation is limited to a few contributors and feeds, that is likely to both change and expand. Likewise, Facebook could be setting themselves up for a whole new type of revenue stream through promoted content, subscription based feeds and a new type of advertising. They could also turn Facebook into a revenue sharing platform. Imagine if you could curate, get subscriptions, and then take a share of the revenue generated.
Paper in and of itself is shiny and pretty, but not mind blowing, nor innovative. However it shows a change in thinking and opens up a wealth of new possibilities from the internet giant that just celebrated it’s 10th birthday. And that, I think, is going to change the game.