Facebook Is Already The World's Largest News Reader

When Marshall Kirkpatrick posted the other day that Facebook could become the largest news reader I had an inkling that it already was. Today, new data released from Hitwise confirms my suspicions: Facebook is indeed the largest news reader. While Yahoo!, Google, and MSN, account for the majority of traffic to news sites, Facebook came in fourth. So why would I suggest that Facebook is the largest news reader even though it’s the fourth largest source of news traffic? Read on to find out.

Facebook Is Already In Feed Format

While there was RSS technology well before Facebook was even conceived, Facebook has been delivering content in feed format since early on. News readers, based on my own definition, aggregate content from around the web and provide links back to that content, enabling users to quickly scan through information and find the most interesting content. Additionally, the context under which the discussion originated was comparing Facebook as an alternative to feed readers for the masses.

While it’s not technically comparable, Facebook was the introduction of feeds for the masses. Of course there were plenty of other solutions but if you walked down the street and asked a bunch of random people what an RSS feed was, the majority would stare back at you blankly. Ask them what Facebook is and practically everybody will tell you what it is, even if they aren’t on it. The best technologies don’t need explanations of how they work (as RSS does), they just work.

Facebook Is The Training Wheels For Feed Readers

Twitter and Facebook feeds make a lot of sense to users initially, but start overloading users with hundreds of requests or messages and they suddenly feel overwhelmed. It’s the content overload problem that many of us have been feeling for years, but now the masses are seeing it. Rather than sifting through thousands of articles about their friends, they just want to know what’s relevant, whether that’s news articles, product reviews, or anything else.

Malorie Lucich’s blog post last Friday was an introduction to the concept of feed filters for many users. It’s part of the ongoing part of feed education that users need if they want to become more active consumers of feed content. I’d argue that anybody who’s curious will figure it out on their own but the vast majority of users still don’t understand what a friend list or feed filter is. It also highlights how feeds are indeed one of the most fundamental components of digital communication.

Facebook Has Already Won

While new media enthusiasts can continue to sit in ponder about the future of media consumption just as ham radio operators like to discuss more efficient radio systems, the reality is that Facebook has already simplified the sharing and consuming of many types of content. While Facebook still has a ways to go in terms of competing with Yahoo!, msn, and Google in total referral traffic, there’s no more comparison between Facebook and “feed readers” or “news readers”. Facebook has simplified online communication for the masses and the only story left to tell is how they continue to usurp the news aggregators of the past one at a time.