With the launch of the new Facebook mobile app Paper, Mark Zuckerberg essentially took what you like about Facebook – the ability to peruse and share photos and personalized updates from your friends – and took away what you may not like about Facebook – the interminable vertical stream of inane jokes, random comments and junk food content.
Yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Facebook essentially reinvented itself by transforming itself into a mobile era newspaper.
Most obviously, there’s the name – Paper. Mark Zuckerberg has already suggested that his goal was nothing less than to create “the best personalized newspaper in the world.” Watch out media companies, that’s what Facebook’s Paper app will attempt to become – your daily newspaper, filled with curated content from around the Internet, combined with the ability to see and share personalized content from your friends.
Then there’s the ability to create personalized content sections on Facebook Paper, the same way you might on Flipboard. Just as the traditional newspaper has topic-based sections such as “Sports” or “Business,” so will Facebook Paper. But unlike a traditional newspaper, with Paper you can feel free to add or delete content sections as you please. Someone may want to focus on sports content, while others may want to supplement that content with the best from the worlds of entertainment, business and technology.
Finally, the way you consume content on Facebook Paper even seems to feel more like the way you might consume content from newspapers and magazines. Paper appears to mark the end of the infinitely scrolling vertical news feed, the “stream” that never seemed to crest, filled with digital flotsam and jetsam. With Facebook Paper, horizontal scrolling with curated, topic-based sections is now the new way to consume content. You move horizontally, left-to-right, instead of top to bottom. One big theme from Facebook is “content serendipity” – delivering the type of content that you want, but that you didn’t necessarily know that you wanted.
For media brands out there, there’s now just the matter of how to tame that infinite stream that was created when everyone became a content creator. Ultimately, this is as much of a UX issue as a technology issue – a question of the optimal combination of swipes and pinches to view content on a tiny mobile device, as well as some serious thinking over the right mix of algorithmic content and human curation so that the best content gets shared on Facebook.
What’s absolutely fascinating in the latest iteration of the Facebook mobile experience is how much it supports the argument that “new media” wants to be just like “old media.” It’s not just Facebook – there’s also Flipboard, which recently introduced more of a magazine-style design, and Medium, which also is attempting to change the way we create, curate and read content. And before Flipboard there was a whole generation of newsreaders that attempted to parse, condense, aggregate and curate our daily news flows.
In short, at almost the very moment when social media appeared ready to overthrow traditional media once and for all – it took a timeout and decided that maybe the endless stream wasn’t the way to win over mobile users. In the end, quality of content is more important than quantity of content — and that’s especially true in the era of tiny screens and social networks with billions of users. This “quality” doesn’t necessarily imply content from “name brands” and “famous writers” – but it does imply content that has been carefully thought-out and artistically expressed. This has to be good for the Internet, which appears to be suffering from a clutter problem these days.
Get ready now for other social media sites that rely on “streams” – such as Twitter – also to rethink the mobile experience. Just like Facebook, which created a new Creative Labs group to design Paper, they will need to hire the best and brightest mobile UX designers and technologists to come up with an alternative to the stream approach to content consumption. Just like Facebook, they will need to keep what works and jettison the rest.
After all, does anybody really have the time to spend hour upon hour, constantly moving down a stream of a seemingly infinite supply of content while squinting at a tiny screen?