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What do Facebook’s “new breed of apps” mean for publishers?

14 Oct, 11 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

The Guardian and Independent recently became the first UK newspapers to launch new style Facebook apps.  These are a “new class of apps”, according to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and “have the ability not only to change the way we think about news but have the ability to change the way the whole news industry works”. They encourage “frictionless experiences”, where users opt in once and avoid being repeatedly asked to agree to allow their friends to see which articles they are reading, enabling “realtime serendipity”, as Zuckerberg put it.

“As we worked with different news organisations there were two camps: people that wanted to bring the social experience onto their sites, like Yahoo [News] and the Independent; and those that wanted the social news experience on Facebook, like Guardian, the Washington Post and the Daily,” director of Facebook’s platform partnerships Christian Hernandez stated.

Bringing the social experience onto your site – The Independent

Recently Read is the app of choice for organisations wishing to bring the social experience onto their existing site.  The experience is based entirely on you and your friends’ online activity. For example, after opting in, the articles you read on Independent.co.uk will be added to your profile on Facebook, and on both the Independent site and on Facebook you and your friends will be able to discover recently read Independent articles. By opting into the Recently Read Facebook application on any article on The Independent site, articles that people have read will be posted to Facebook for their friends to discover and interact with in real time. People can control what articles become part of their profile directly from the application, and also on Facebook.


An Independent spokesperson says: “Many Independent readers already experience their news through a social lens. Since integrating social plugins in early 2010, referrals from Facebook have increased by 430 percent, making Facebook the second biggest driver of traffic to the website.”

Moving your content onto Facebook – The Guardian

The Guardian app, on the other hand, lives 100% within Facebook. Meg Pickard, head of digital engagement at Guardian News & Media, says: “We know that a lot of Guardian readers are keen Facebook users, and vice versa, so we wanted to create a news experience that was native to the Facebook environment…The app draws on the social functionality they are already familiar with to highlight and discover quality Guardian content, and makes users’ reading experience more personal and relevant.”

Once you allow the app, whenever you follow Guardian links you’ll be shown the content on a Facebook page. This lets you see what your friends are reading, and what is popular amongst Facebook users. You will also be able to comment and discuss articles with your friends or with the whole Guardian community. If you decide not to share an article, you can “X” it out from The Guardian app, or remove it from your Timeline through your Activity Log.

What’s the real difference?

From a user perspective, whether you’re on the Guardian app page or The Independent, both apps work in exactly the same way: if a friend is reading an article on either, it will appear in your feed. However, in The Independent’s case, the friend has to be reading it on the site after having logged onto the Facebook app. In The Guardian’s case, they have to be reading it on the app page. In both cases, the publisher is asking the user to ‘come to us’. Whether the address begins with facebook.com or independent.co.uk, it still requires users to make an extra click.

Why install The Independent app? To see what your friends are reading while you’re on their site and to reduce the effort needed to share what you’re reading.

Why install The Guardian app? This also reduces the effort needed to share your reading (both apps assume sharing by default) but also to get only the populist and socially-influenced view of the site.

The key difference is that on The Independent, your Facebook friends’ reading is a small part of the editorial mix, and on The Guardian it is – along with the broader ‘most popular’ stories – the only part of the editorial mix.

What does this mean for publishers?

Many view the new social apps as a great opportunity for publishers. Every time a user reads an article (which is defined by spending at least 30 seconds on the article) it shows up in their ‘ticker’ for other people to click on. The app will also show up on your timeline highlighting all the media that user has consumed recently, encouraging more people to install the app.”The key metric going forward will be closer to how many people added your content or application to their timeline rather than how many connections you have,” said Mike Lazerow, CEO of Facebook marketing specialist Buddy Media. “This is a radical shift to actions and engagement — and away from reach and impressions.”

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