Facebook wants to be the newspaper for your life: the place where you go to find out if your friends are getting married or having babies or graduating from college, the place you go to read viral news stories. But the old interface has grown clunky. Facebook needed to break its own mold. So Thursday, the company introduced a new iOS app: Paper.
Paper is a magazine-like app where the first section is your News Feed. But this isn't the News Feed of old: Everything looks new and fresh, with full-screen photos and videos. The rest of Paper is tailored to you. You pick the sections you want to read in your personal newspaper--headlines, sports, tech, food , you name it--and Facebook editors will fill each section with curated stories from well-known publications like the New York Times and the Huffington Post as well as "emerging voices."
Facebook's apps in the past have been designed with function in mind, so they're not the most beautiful or visually engaging. Paper changes that. Like its namesake, Paper aims to be a tactile experience--flip through sections, tap a card to unfold stories, scroll through photos, and tilt your phone to see more details in an image.
Paper also encourages more high-quality content with tools for creating longer posts and choosing better videos. Long gone are the days where status updates are rigidly formatted as your name here is _____.
Facebook's app-centric future
The social network has experimented with versions of what would become Paper in the past. First there was a newspaper-like redesign of News Feed that didn't test well enough to for a widespread rollout and then Facebook Home, the network's attempt to be the cover page of your smartphone. Some design elements of Home's Cover Feed are evident in Paper, like status updates scrawled across full-screen photos. While Cover Feed proved unpopular in the end, its visual appeal was undeniable.
Facebook took mobile-first a little too far with Home, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in the company's end-of-year earnings call on Wednesday that the future of the social network is stand-alone apps like Instagram and Facebook Messenger. The company's new Creative Labs is tasked with delivering better mobile experiences, beginning with Paper.
Paper will suffer endless comparisons to other social newsreaders, particularly Flipboard, but Facebook has the upper hand. More than 500 million users check Facebook from their smartphone every single day. Though Paper is a stand-alone app, it offers a richer version of Facebook with some of the same content you already see in its existing apps. Potentially, you could use Paper exclusively and never open your Facebook app again. (What that means for mobile ad revenues is anyone's guess at this point.) So Flipboard, Prismatic, Trove, and the other newsreaders are facing a new world in which their news curation services are fighting Facebook, which is already entrenched in people's lives.
We'll find out next week whether Paper lives up to its promise or fails with Home. Paper debuts on iOS on Feb. 3.