Facebook Unveils New ‘Paper’ App

Facebook released its new ‘Paper’ app last week, marking its latest entry in the world of mobile technology. According to the Facebook Newsroom, the app is designed to make “storytelling more beautiful with an immersive design and fullscreen, distraction-free layouts.”

The idea is to make the Facebook experience more akin to that of a newspaper or magazine. I’ll say that the interface is definitely more visually appealing than the standard Facebook app, and it can actually be quite fun to use. The swiping panels focus on photos and short headlines, rivaling that of social media competitor Twitter — a fact that is surely less than a coincidence.

Paper is the first app to come out of the Facebook Creative Labs, the company’s new initiative to develop apps to target specific user demands. Josh Constine, writing for TechCrunch, reminds us of the familiar feeling of anger that many Facebook users get when the site makes a drastic change. (Remember when we were all forced to switch to the Timeline? Scary stuff.) The Creative Labs are working to make entirely new apps so that users can pick and choose which ones they want to use, without alienating the people that want to stick to the traditional format.

Paper focuses on news stories, but its home page is still based on the original news feed of friends’ status updates. You can choose to use one app or the other, or even both, but Jessica Guynn of The Los Angeles Times writes that Facebook might intend users to gradually make the switch to the new app’s format. “It’s Facebook reimagined for the smaller screen,” and that’s necessary if the social network wants to remain relevant against its competitors.

Facebook Paper Kyle Schuerger

But what I’m really interested in is the fact that Facebook has a team of people hand-picking the stories that are featured on Paper. Jennifer Van Grove writes in an article for CNET that

Sections are a mix of posts surfaced by algorithms and plucked by human editors, with the primary goal being to present you with content you haven’t seen before.

This brings Facebook, which was formerly based solely on user-generated content, into a whole new territory as a social gatekeeper. As more people subscribe to the new app, they can get their news from Facebook’s headquarters, and therefore be fed only the news that Facebook deems worthy. With roughly 1/5 of the world’s population using Facebook at the end of 2013, and almost half of those users preferring the mobile platform, that’s a lot of power.

That being said, they are still using relatively legitimate and established sources to populate these Sections … for now. If and when Facebook decides to enter the business of reporting the news itself, this could turn in an even greater issue. And that’s something to think about.

But for now, Facebook Paper is a fun app to use. I only downloaded it to see what the hype was about regarding the Creative Labs, but in just a few days, it has already gained a solid place in my news app rotation. An iPad version isn’t available yet, but given the news format, I’d assume that’s on the way — along with an Android version, for that matter.

You can download Facebook Paper here.

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