After several attempts to make up for its late arrival in mobile, Facebook may have a standout mobile hit on its hands. On Thursday, the social networking powerhouse introduced a new app for finding and sharing stories -- Paper.
The app, available for the iPhone on Feb. 3 in the US, is the first product from the company’s Creative Labs division, which is intended to build apps as if they were startup-based products.
One of First Steps
Paper offers the user’s Facebook News Feed, with additional content in sections that have been curated by Facebook human editors and by a personalization algorithm. Users can customize their Paper with over a dozen sections covering topics such as photography, sports, food or science, each with photos, videos, articles and essays from both well known and more obscure external sources. A user can also create and share a story with text and photos.
The app’s fluid, mobile conscious interface is attracting much attention. A user can explore panoramic photos by tilting the smartphone, and autoplay videos pop full screen. User posts are shown in a live preview before sharing, and there are a variety of ways to navigate content. These include spinning a wheel of content choices at screen bottom and then dragging and dropping small icons of selections to screen top, or folding screen parts in ways that recall newspaper reading.
The new app represents more than simply a new release. It can be seen as one of the first steps by Facebook to redefine itself as an innovator, at least in part as an attempt to recapture the growing number of younger users who are becoming bored with the site. One assumes that the effort to emphasize content and innovation is behind Facebook’s decision that Paper will be ad free, at least for the time being.
‘Nothing Not to Love’
In a conference call with analysts on Wednesday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that he wanted to “build a handful of different experiences that people don’t think of as Facebook.” He added that one of the company’s multiyear plans is to build standalone apps that add “new experiences for sharing,” such as its updated Messenger app.
Brad Shimmin, an analyst at industry research firm Current Analysis who covers social media, told CMSWire that, “if you are a Facebook mobile user, there is nothing not to love” about Paper, in part because, “unlike some of the company’s previous efforts in mobile, it doesn’t try to be everything.”
It is, he noted, a consumption and sharing app, not a communications one, and “is trying to make your event stream more enjoyable” without trying to make it into a revenue stream. It is “tempting,” Shimmin said, for “Facebook to try to monetize every channel,” but the company’s goal should instead be “to make the service more valuable and make people more attracted” to spending time on Facebook.
Shimmin added that, as in previous Net models, monetization can follow if the service remains popular. In that context, he said, Paper “is going to be a success.”