Facebook's Paper App Shows All News Is Not Created Equal

Posted: Feb 10 2014, 6:32pm CST | by , Updated: Feb 10 2014, 6:36pm CST, in Technology News


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Facebook's Paper App Shows All News Is Not Created Equal

There’s a great English expression that captures Facebook’s new philosophy for mobile app development: “Horses for courses.” Instead of trying to make its feature app all things to all people, the company is offering a range of products meant to satisfy different use cases and serve different demographics — most recently its new Paper app.

So which course is this horse bred for? I’ve been playing around with it for a week, and I’m still not totally clear.

As it’s name implies, Paper is primarily a vehicle for news, built in response to a feeling that the important stories that surface within one’s Facebook News Feed quickly gets lost amid the crush of baby photos, Buzzfeed quizzes, GIF memes, ads, comments and other detritus. Such news as you do see tends to come from within the filter bubble of your social network’s shared biases and obsessions.

Paper bursts that bubble. The onboarding process nudges you to choose several different categories of news to receive (including sports, tech, entertainment, photography, “Cute” and “Lol”), and a layer of editorial curation by actual humans ensures that you encounter a respectable range of articles from reputable outlets, not just the same lame story about the beauty of magnified sand over and over again. I particularly like the way the stories cluster around the big narratives of the moment. (Eg. my “Score” feed today features multiple takes on Michael Sam and the Sochi Olympics.)

So far, so good. Where Paper stumbles is in not going far enough. Among the streams is one called, simply, Facebook. It’s the Paper-ized version of your Facebook News Feed, meaning it’s been rendered into a tasteful layout of tiles that scrolls horizontally, not vertically. Photos are extra large and can be panned by tilting the phone; comments are suppressed for the sake of tidiness.

Treating status updates as one current of “news” among many no doubt seemed like a sensible compromise, a way of connecting Paper to the core Facebook experience. But it doesn’t quite work. Instead of bridging the gap between social news and real news, Paper’s creators unintentionally highlighted it.

Rendered into Paper, the contents of your News Feed (or at least of mine) end up looking shabby, random, inconsequential. Displaying them in parallel to the sleek contents of the other feeds invites implicit comparisons that don’t serve them well. It turns out your friends are not terribly good photographers, headline writers or even spellers when forced to compete with the professionals. A “Which Sopranos character are you?” quiz in your News Feed merely seems disposable; in Paper, it feels jarringly out of place.

It’s not a fatal flaw. As Ellis Hamburger points out, you can easily enough push the Facebook stream to the back of the queue and ignore it if you don’t like it. But then what’s the point? As a pure news reader, Paper is all right, but there are a lot of good alternatives, products like Flipboard, Zite, Pulse and Circa. If you’re already using one of these, chances are you won’t feel compelled to make room on your home screen for another reader, however, attractively presented.

Source: Forbes

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