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First thoughts on ‘Facebook Paper’: Great Idea, Could Be Better, Could Be Big

Facebook Paper ProfileI know I’m not the only person who downloaded Facebook’s new product ‘Paper’ the second I got up this morning – I’d be a poor social media manager if I hadn’t. And I know that I’m only adding to the volume of conversation around the product, but I have to add my humble thoughts to the mix as this product doesn’t make sense to me at this point.

If you missed it, Facebook rolled out a brand new app on its 10th anniversary called Facebook Paper. It’s being touted as “Facebook reimagined for the smaller screen.” As Facebook began in 2004, smartphones were a thing of the future and there’s no way Zuckerberg, et al., could have predicted the difficulties mobile screens would throw at anyone who first designed a website meant to be viewed on a desktop discovered. Facebook scaled surprisingly well. The bare bones of the site – photos, the news feed and profiles – all play nice on any size screen ranging from an iPhone all the way up to a desktop. Even the chat function has gone through some finessing and works well enough in the app that I  have yet to download Facebook Messenger to do the same work.

So when I first heard that Facebook Paper was going to be coming out, I was at first skeptical. If they have an app that works well, why do they need another one?

And then I saw the commercial and I got excited.

Introducing Paper from Facebook on Vimeo.

The entire video is a nod to the bibliophiles among us. Those of us who love books, stories, letters … those of us who love paper. The ones who die a little inside each time another bookstore closes because we know there’s nothing like getting lost in an aisle and discovering your new best friend, Scarlett O’Hara or Lizzie Bennet. It’s not the same on a Kindle or a Nook even though I have both of those apps downloaded to my iPad and recognize the ease of use and discovery there. Sometimes, reading is supposed to be about a the deliberate act of cracking a book or unfolding a newspaper and losing yourself as you discover something new.

The Facebook Paper commercial is a testament to that. It recognizes the wonder of story telling and the method of delivery. The brief glimpse of flipping a story open juxtaposed with a person opening a newspaper had me hooked as both a user and, especially, as a marketer.

How great would it be to tell a brand’s story in a more conventional way on Facebook? It follows my thinking that social media marketing isn’t special. All the same rules of marketing apply, you just do it in 140-characters or on Facebook. But this product appeared to be an answer to those of us who aren’t sharing coupons or trying to drive foot traffic to a store through social media. Those of us who cultivate a story and a feeling around a a rather intangible idea like higher education or the like.

I opened the app on my iPad first and followed the topics of most interest to me – Tech, Headlines, Pop Life, Home, Ideas and Enterprise. So far so good. These are the types of topics I’m interested in and keep up on through other social media outlets. Let’s see what Facebook can do to differentiate.

Right now, Facebook Paper’s Ideas section is showing me all Philip Seymour Hoffman all the time. Great, I get it, he passed away, I was sad on Sunday when I heard the news, I  mourned as any fan would and read a follow-up piece yesterday. I have to horizontally scroll a decent amount to get to stories about Bruno Mars’ halftime show and Super Bowl ads. Awesome. Also news I read yesterday. I just saw what looked like an interesting Forbes piece on Bruno Mars, but the image scrolled too quickly for me to react and now I don’t know where to find it. Do I scroll more? On the feature box? No. Oh. Back in the Ideas section. There it is. And it takes three clicks to get to the actual article. You know where I can find that easily? Twitter. You know where it only takes me one click to get to the site? Twitter.

Pop Life is doing a bit better with an interesting piece on House of Cards from the New York Times. That story is set up differently from the Forbes story on Bruno Mars. Oh I get to flip this one open like a newspaper! That was fun. Wait. This didn’t open right, the responsive design didn’t accommodate my iPad and I had to reset the size to read the article. No big deal and that could be a simple bug fix that could resolve itself as the app rolls out to a wider audience. You know where I don’t have to re-size articles that I click on when I want to read them? Twitter.

Facebook Paper Scale Issue

I won’t go through my thought process on every single section, but the Headlines section is pretty similar – stories I saw yesterday or on my morning perusal of Twitter. Enterprise could prove useful and Tech aggregates all of the major players like Gizmodo, Wired, CNET and ReadWrite into one place. It could be useful and I’m already seeing some stories that I hadn’t been aware of. But I work in Higher Ed. I want news and information from the Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed. I want to see what other Universities are doing on Facebook. How do I follow that section? Oh. I go to LinkedIn for that? Or Twitter?

So what does my brand look like on Facebook Paper? I navigated to the University of Notre Dame and was immediately underwhelmed.

Last week I posted three incredibly high resolution images of the Campus Crossroads Project and Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins meeting Pope Francis. The stories went crazy on Facebook and the photos were beautiful having come from a professional architecture firm and the Vatican Photographic Office. The photos look gorgeous as I click through to the photos section of the page, but if I scroll horizontally and open the photos from the lower timeline everything falls apart. The images are grainy and pixelated instead of crisp and beautiful. Sure, I can tilt the image to explore more, but why do I want to when it looks ugly?

And then I came to the realization that Facebook Paper isn’t supposed to be viewed on the iPad.

Jumping over to my iPhone all of the responsive design issues disappear and the images shared by the University of Notre Dame last week are as crisp and beautiful as they were on the desktop and Facebook app with the added benefit of allowing the user to “explore” the image by tilting the device.

Pretty cool, but I already have Facebook on my phone. It’s called my Facebook app.

Call me crazy, but I prefer to read articles on screen larger than the palm of my hand. This seems like the perfect app for an iPad or Kindle, anything larger than an iPhone. Why wouldn’t you want to deliver the best, most visual experience possible on a screen of that size?

Facebook Paper could have been a game changer for Facebook much like the original site was in 2004. It could have incorporated some of the best pieces of other social media sites and presented them in a gorgeous layout to keep people on Facebook and be the “newspaper” that it seemingly wants to be. In an ideal world, I’d be able to follow specific news outlets or story tellers as their own standalone section on Facebook Paper, much like Twitter, or more narrow topics like I can on LinkedIn. I’m still interested in watching what Facebook Paper can do, but my reaction is much more tempered. I still love everything they showed in the commercial and I love the pieces of the app that tip their hat to the paper lovers among us so I’m intrigued to see where this product goes.

 

Post By Liz Harter (70 Posts)

Liz Harter has a degree in English Writing with a minor in Spanish from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. She is an award winning journalist on the collegiate level with a strong background in journalism. She currently works in PR and is a social media autodidact Google+

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About the Author

Liz Harter has a degree in English Writing with a minor in Spanish from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. She is an award winning journalist on the collegiate level with a strong background in journalism. She currently works in PR and is a social media autodidact Google+

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