Two weeks ago Facebook launched Paper, its latest and biggest splash in the standalone mobile app space. Many major tech sites hyped the launch and The Verge went as far as to title its piece on the app, “With Paper, Facebook just blew its own iPhone app out of the water…” Still, it remains to be seen whether Facebook members download the app and continue to use it.
In Brad Stone’s and Sarah Frier’s recent profile of Mark Zuckerberg for Bloomberg Businessweek, the authors describe an all-hands meeting at Facebook in 2012 where Zuckerberg declared that the company would be “mobile first.” Stone and Frier continue:
The process hasn’t been entirely smooth. Facebook contemplated building its own smartphones and decided against it. Last year it introduced software called Facebook Home to customize devices running Google’s (GOOG) Android software, which flopped. Now it’s concentrating on a third approach: standalone apps, lots of them. On Jan. 30, Facebook plans to release the first in a series of mobile apps as part of an initiative it’s calling Facebook Creative Labs.
Many of these apps will have their own brands and distinct styles of sharing. The first, called Paper, looks nothing at all like a Facebook product. If Facebook is the Internet’s social newspaper, Paper strives to be its magazine: photos, friend updates, and shared articles show up in an image-heavy, uncluttered way. The stories are picked and ordered based largely on how much they are shared and “liked” on Facebook, with a team of human editors ensuring that the content comes from the right sources. The app includes a few neat interface tricks such as a panoramic mode, which lets users navigate to different sections of a photograph by tilting their device in different directions. “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,” Zuckerberg says. In other words, the future of Facebook may not rest entirely on Facebook itself.
With Paper being the first product of Facebook’s new mobile-first approach, the company will devote a lot of resources towards ensuring its success. Facebook has already had a lasting impact on social TV, but here’s 3 predictions for how Paper specifically will impact social TV:
1) The new “Reshare” button will result in increased engagement. Twitter has been the primary force driving social TV mainly because of three elements: hashtags, retweeting, and trending topics. Facebook has recently integrated hashtags and has introduced a Trending Topics section; Paper (and for now, only Paper) features a “Reshare” button, which should be thought of as an answer to a Twitter retweet. Currently, Facebook users can share other users’ posts but are prompted to add additional context. A Paper “Reshare” is more seamless and will result in more people sharing updates about what they’re watching.
2) It will compete against dedicated second screen apps. While networks have been investing heavily in standalone second screen apps to be used during broadcasts, Paper also provides users with a rich second screen experience. For the upcoming Oscars, for example, users will likely see posts from friends about the show in their visually-enhanced news feeds, and can then scroll over to the Pop Life section to read a Daily Beast post on Oscar favorites, and then to the Glow section to read a Refinery29 piece on Red Carpet jewelry. Articles featured in sections are chosen based on a mixture of algorithms and editors, and major events like the Oscars and the Super Bowl will surely be featured across sections.
3) It will help solidify Facebook as the visual social network. Between Facebook (the main desktop, tablet, and mobile versions) and Instagram, Facebook has attempted to paint itself as the visual social network, while Twitter is the faster, text-based, platform. Twitter has combatted this with its acquisition of Vine, but images – still and moving – remain Facebook’s biggest strength. With Paper, Facebook has doubled down on this distinction, as the app is almost entirely visual. Paper currently runs without advertising but its appeal and potential to advertisers is certainly there. One can imagine a scenario where a Microsoft commercial appears on-air and then asks users to interact with a sponsored post that leads the Technology section of Paper. Another scenario: a special section in Paper for an advertiser created around an event like the Oscars or Super Bowl that features user-generated photos submitted based on a TV call-to-action. The visual nature of Facebook and its standalone apps will draw advertisers, especially as cross-platform advertising becomes increasingly synched.