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What does Facebook Paper mean for publishers?

17 Feb, 14 | by BMJ

The tech community has been watching closely since Facebook went public in 2012 and began its mission to engage mobile web users. News about younger users abandoning Facebook for the trendier Whats App and Snapchat have fueled many a doomsday warning, but refinements made to the platform’s app over the past year appear to have been successful. According to Facebook, an enormous 945 million out of 1.2 billion monthly active users were using the company’s mobile products by the end of 2013.

Now Facebook wants to offer content serendipity with Paper, a standalone iOS news reader app that delivers human and algorithm-curated full-screen articles and photos in categories you select like Tech, Health, and Pop Culture. Mark Zuckerberg said back in March that he wanted to make Facebook “the best personalized newspaper in the world.” However, it seems that the designers of Paper have come up with something closer to a glossy magazine.

How does it work?

The app has redesigned the Facebook user interface from scratch, focusing on full-screen, bold images and replacing the familiar “timeline” with a Flipboard-style interface. Posts have been renamed as stories; text updates are now full screen and black text on white background, while images also receive the full screen treatment, with text overlaid and the option to scroll by tilting the phone.

Albums are presented in an Instagram inspired vertical scrolling format, while videos (also full screen) play automatically. The app seems to focus on Facebook’s news feed rather than other functions such as messages, but there are also other “feeds” that users can opt to browse instead. Notably, these feeds will be curated, apparently focusing on getting the most creative and engaging content in front of users’ eyes.

Newsreader or social platform?

The most radical aspect of Paper is that it isn’t completely focused on your friends. As well as offering a new way to browse through their updates, the app also comes with a handful of sections for topics. The information itself is sorted into social news verticals, which don’t resemble those found in traditional news sites – or apps. For example, lifestyle coverage is divided into the following categories: Well Lived (health), Cute (animals), Glow (beauty) and Pride (LGBT issues). This style of grouping is based on the stories social web users gravitate to and naturally share. It’s a strong cue for traditional publishers, and the first Facebook has given in a while. Mixed in with all that will be the best publicly posted content from Facebook users, as cherry picked by the editorial team.

How will this affect publishers?

The message from Facebook is simple: if you want to be one of the “emerging voices and well-known publications” that Paper puts front and centre, you’ve got to create great content continuously.

A diverse, rich-media filled content strategy for Facebook has become more important than ever. Not only will it give you more attention grabbing content on ‘traditional Facebook’, but it will be the only way to get in front of users on Paper and stay there.

Facebook Paper is currently only available in the US, but there is a workaround for the rest of us.

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