The Guardian today announced that it will remove its social reader application from Facebook.com in favor of deeper Facebook integration on its own website that will give users more control over what they share.
Some are interpreting the news as a blow to Facebook and a way for the Guardian to take back control of its content after the social network made changes that limited the reach of news apps. However, based on plans laid out by the Guardian, the media outlet seems to be continuing to invest in the Facebook platform and is working to create a better user experience, not sidestep the social network. Facebook apps do not need to run on Facebook.com. The company allows developers to integrate social features across the web, on mobile and with any Internet-connected device.
The Guardian says starting Monday it will direct Facebook users who click on its links to guardian.co.uk rather than to apps.facebook.com/theguardian. The publisher will continue to use Facebook login on its website and has plans to add features that give users more ways to give feedback on articles, which will then be shared to Facebook if they desire. This is a move toward explicit sharing rather than the “frictionless sharing” associated with social reader applications.
Facebook and its partners discovered that users were not comfortable with having articles they read automatically shared with their friends. Users were often surprised and embarrassed to see their activity appear back on Facebook. The Guardian, like other developers, is now looking at ways for users to take lightweight actions that can be shared through Facebook’s Open Graph without them feeling as though their privacy has been violated. For example, the Guardian plans to introduce polls and other questions that users can answer and share if they’re logged in with Facebook.
“The key thing is that the user will be in control and if they’re not interested in sharing it will not impact on their experience of accessing our content on guardian.co.uk,” the company wrote on its blog.
These types of integrations allow users to share their feelings, which is ultimately more meaningful than saying a person “read an article.” It also makes sense for this activity to happen on the Guardian’s website rather than within a canvas app on Facebook.com, which isn’t optimized for mobile and has other limitations when it comes to design. The media outlet can also capitalize on its existing site traffic rather than working to drive users to a property on Facebook.
As we’ve written about previously, the misperception that Facebook apps are limited to those on Facebook.com contributes to skepticism about the company’s longterm potential. But the social network continues to benefit even if the Guardian takes its integration to its own site. Facebook is still collecting data that can be used for advertising and users are generating stories that will make News Feed more engaging for their friends. Over time, Facebook can implement additional ways to monetize third-party integrations, but first it needs to get developers and companies on board to try it. The Guardian’s continued experimentation with the platform — even if it’s off-site — should be seen as an endorsement of Facebook, not a rejection of it.
[Update 12/14/12 – The Washington Post also announced today that it would move its social reader application off Facebook to a standalone website that will support Facebook login, but also allow users to browse without logging in. The timing suggests the publishers were advised by Facebook to take this approach of moving their app off-Facebook and giving users more control over their experience.]