Mark Zuckerberg’s new master plan to dominate your phone’s home screen looks good on paper. Well, actually, it is paper.
No, we're not going back to the stone ages. Paper is Facebook’s new news-gathering app. The standalone app -- unveiled on Thursday and set to be launched for iPhone in the U.S. only starting February 3rd -- aggregates top stories from your news feed with other news stories it thinks you will find interesting. Photos and stories open one at a time in full screen, and you can do things like tilt the phone side-to-side to pan through wide-angle photos, or re-share with a click of a button, just like Twitter’s retweet button.
Essentially, Paper is the magazine to the regular Facebook app’s newspaper, and the fact that they are separate is part of Zuckerberg’s new strategy, as he explained in a feature interview with Bloomberg Businessweek: “We just think that there are all these different ways that people want to share, and that compressing them all into a single blue app is not the right format of the future.”
The success of the standalone Messenger and Instagram apps as top free downloads in the App Store proved that Facebook can create new apps to divert some of the weight off the central app while getting more of a stranglehold on your smartphone’s home screen. It’s also not so easy to make changes to an app for a social network that one in five people in the world use without causing an uproar, so external apps allow Facebook to experiment without any massive repercussions like the brand-killing concept of becoming uncool.
But it hasn’t been smooth sailing to get to this point. Recent Facebook creations like Facebook Home for Google Android and a Snapchat copycat app called Poke were both flops. Facebook has also been facing a lot of pressure to reassert its coolness after a study showed that teens were steering away from Facebook and towards apps like Snapchat and Tumblr because their parents aren’t on those.
However, it doesn’t look like Facebook will be going the way of the pager or the PC anytime soon. Fourth-quarter earnings have Facebook posting $2.59 billion in revenue, with 53% of that revenue coming from mobile -- a slap in the face to anyone on Wall Street who said Facebook had no way of making money when they went public in May 2012. Those critics are now left in the dust as Facebook has become the fastest company in history to reach a $150 billion market cap.
But Facebook won’t be making their money off Paper from mobile ads like they do on their main app, as Paper will be ad-free. It has to be cool before it’s monetized, right? So, why do it, then? Most Facebook users don’t have Twitter or RSS readers, but Zuckerberg seems intent on keeping people informed with the news. And as an online journalist, this makes me very happy.