The Wall Street Journal today launched its news reader Facebook app WSJ Social. It lets users view streams of stories sorted by the newspaper’s staff, their friends, or a Facebook news feed-style algorithm that shows stories with the most Likes. Stories can be instantly shared with Facebook friends using Like buttons, and users can reach a leaderboard by getting the most subscribers.
The release of the canvas app shows that the WSJ sees potential in Facebook beyond driving referral traffic. Rather than complicate its website with tacked on plugins of stories Liked by friends, it has created an entire experience around customization and recommendations. By hosting the app within Facebook, WSJ may also be hoping to suck up some of the social network’s massive time on site, and make users feel more comfortable sharing links to the publication.
The WSJ.com does currently display Facebook’s Like button and Comments box on its website, though these don’t help organize the site’s content by relevancy to the viewer. However, Facebook’s news feed has revealed the stickiness of an algorithmically sorted stream of content chosen by friends. WSJ Social will allow the publication to experiment with personalization similar to the news feed without disturbing the traditional, lightweight, professionally-curated news reading experience its core audience expects from WSJ.com.
When users read articles within the app, they’ll see the Facebook Comments box prominently displayed in the sidebar rather than buried at the bottom of the page. They’ll also only see the Facebook Like button — no Twitter, Google, or other sharing plugins. In this way, the proliferation of WSJ Social-style apps within Facebook, such as the app “Editions” reportedly being developed by CNN and The Washington Post, a could threaten other social platforms populated by usage of their sharing buttons on websites.
WSJ Social’s “My Latest News Feed” makes it unique from other sites such as Twitter and Facebook that let users subscribe to updates from thought leaders. This default view of the home page holds the app’s true value — combining recommendations by friends, thought leaders, and the wisdom of the crowd via the Like button with the picks of WSJ’s entire editorial staff as well as the editors of particular sections. This feed shows the articles picked by the editors a user has followed but that also have high Like counts, and is likely to present highly relevant content.
To provide suggestions of WSJ and peer editors to follow and encourage users to engage, the app offers a leaderboard of the day’s most popular editors. By Liking stories and getting friends to follow them, users can rise to this list and be subscribed to by strangers. Vanity and feeling of obligation to one’s existing subscribers could push users to frequently return to the app and share WSJ stories, driving traffic for the publication.
The presence of additional curation controls does mean less room for content. The panels representing stories in WSJ Social aren’t large enough to show blurbs or in some cases even photos that make choosing what to read easier. At the same time, the cleaner interface may be less exhausting to casual readers. Living within the Facebook chrome may also give WSJ Social advantages as Facebook moves to itself becoming a media hub with a “Read” button to help users tell friends they’ve consumed and enjoyed an article.
For the first month after launch, sponsorships from Dell and Intel will make all WSJ content available to WSJ Social users. After that, though, the app will mirror the website and requires users to pay to access premium content such as expanded coverage and article archives. The more time users spend reading the WSJ, whether on the app or the website, the more likely they are to pay for unlimited access. And with users spending so much time on Facebook, the exposure generated through WSJ could aid the publication’s bottom line as print dies out.