“Recently Read Articles” Aggregated News Feed Stories Give Facebook Reader Apps a Viral Boost

Facebook is now prominently displaying a new “Recently Read Articles” story type in the news feed. It shows articles read by one’s friends who use any of the recently launched news reader open graph applications. Since the stories aggregate recent activity from multiple friends, Facebook is giving these stories a high EdgeRank score and often displaying them at the very top of the news feed.

The Recently Read Articles news feed story has created a powerful viral channel for news reader apps that may be contributing to the rapid growth of apps by The Washington Post, The Guardian, and other news outlets.

Several popular news organizations including The Wall Street Journal and The Daily had already released Facebook news reader apps in hopes of reaching new audiences through social sharing. But on September 22nd at Facebook’s f8 conference, several new viral channels were opened to apps that integrate the Open Graph protocol. These including having in-app activity such as reading an article automatically published to the home page’s Ticker and added to a user’s Timeline profile.

Typically, if several friends engage in the same activity such as listening to the same artist on Spotify or an activity story receives several Likes and comments it can move from the Ticker to having its own full-sized news feed story. With Recently Read Articles, Facebook has made it easier for news reader apps to gain this exposure.

The special story type shows the article that is currently most popular with a user’s friends at the top with an image and blurb. This is followed by a list of other reading activity that can come from across any reader app that uses the official Open Graph noun ‘article’ and verb ‘read’. Each article displays the logo of the app is was read in and profile picture thumbnails of the friends that read it.

Recently Read Articles may help the most widely used reader apps grow larger because their articles can claim the especially visible top slot. The faces of friends create an powerful social recommendation to click through to an article and install its reader app if necessary.

In part thanks to the Recently Read Articles story type, London newspaper The Guardian’s reader app has grown to 2.25 million monthly active users and 240,000 daily active users since its launch three weeks ago. The Washington Post’s app has experienced rapid growth as well, gaining  800,000 monthly active users and 70,000 daily active users since its launch at f8, according to AppData.

The news feed may be becoming the place people go to discover articles on Sundays, judging by The Guardian’s spike to 509,000 DAU and The Washington Post’s spike to 240,000 DAU last Sunday. Facebook might even be displaying the Recently Read Articles story more frequently on Sundays to match that day’s traditional role as when people catch up on news.

Fledgling reader apps and those by niche outlets can also benefit from the special news feed story type. They can ride the heavy engagement of larger apps to the top of the news feed where they can draw clicks by securing one of the last slots in Recently Read Articles. This could help prevent a ‘winner takes all’ scenario where only the most popular reader apps appear in the main column of the news feed.

Many of the popular reader apps including The Washington Post and WSJ Social don’t seem to be compatible with Facebook’s new mobile application platform yet. Once they are HTML5-ready and people can read articles from their couch or while commuting, usage could grow even faster.

Recently Read Articles delivers a high quality, socially vetted set of content that enriches the news feed. It will also help Facebook get users accustomed to installing new Open Graph apps. By providing this unpaid viral growth channel, Facebook makes its Open Graph development platform more attractive to more developers. It could boost return on investment for reader apps such that more newspapers becoming willing to spend money to develop them.