Facebook finally cuts through the noise with Paper

We live in an age of information overload. Paper provides for a quieter experience on social media, but can it succeed?

With a publicity rollout that resembles an iPhone commercial and a swipe-driven interface that looks nothing like its clunky legacy app, Facebook’s Paper deserves to succeed where the platform’s legacy news feed fails.

Simply put, there’s a lot less noise on Paper, and it makes our collective Facebook appearance less about each other and more about stories. Paper, which launched last week, surfaces news from selected publishers based on your interests in select topics, rather than showing you things you know you already like (and, not to mention, might surface two or three more times in the classic news feed).

That said, Paper is not a straight aggregated news app like Circa (which is great, if you’re looking for that sort of thing). It’s still a social platform. The Facebook messaging, friend requests and story share functions are still prominent in Paper, just built more seamlessly into its sleek design; the addictive little notifications will keep pulling you back into the social network. But the information itself is sorted into social news verticals, which don’t resemble those found in traditional news sites – or apps. In Paper, lifestyle coverage is divided into categories Well Lived (health), Cute (animals), Glow (beauty) and Pride (LGBT issues). Photojournalism and Equality get their own prominent areas, too. This style of grouping is based on the stories social web users gravitate to and organically share; it’s a strong cue for traditional publishers, and the first Facebook has given in a while.

Paper is less conversational than the typical Facebook experience, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Its attempts to mimic Twitter with ‘follow’ functionality or interest lists were relative flops, and its news feed these days resembles a Suessian noise contraption. But by providing a quiet reading experience that feels like a refuge for mobile news readers (while still allowing them the benefits of sharing their experiences), Facebook is competing against itself to take the lead with both social media and news. Given that Twitter’s information overdrive has stalled growth and bred user indifference, Paper provides an appealing contrast with a clear purpose.

With seamless swipe functionality, Facebook paper is combining news and social, an improvement on its legacy app Photograph: Facebook Paper

Since Facebook went public in 2012, the tech community has watched closely – and published many a doomsday warning – as the company attempted to engage mobile web users. News about younger users ditching Facebook for the cooler pastures of Whats App and Snapchat didn’t improve optics as time went on, but refinements made to the platform’s legacy app over the past year, including revamped messaging and news feed functions, appear successful. According to Facebook, a whopping 945 million out of 1.2 billion monthly active users were using the company’s mobile products by the end of 2013. The Guardian’s Oliver Burkeman wrote that Paper is just another pretty face in an overloaded news marketplace, but it’s much more than that. It’s a Facebook app that is high-quality enough to supplant what come before it.

A few qualms: much like with Facebook’s news feed, the process that goes into curating the content users see on Paper is mysterious, and the chosen publishers are disappointingly mainstream; we’ll have to wait and see whether Paper surfaces the next Humans of New York or I Fucking Love Science. Lastly, if you’re used to the fast-moving nature of Twitter or old school news feed, Paper’s horizontal scroll might seem a bit too lazy for your tastes, and the app load time could be prohibitive.

Download Paper’s IOS app here -- it’s currently only available to US-based iPhone users; Paper is not yet available on Android.


Katie Rogers

The GuardianTramp

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