Facebook really wants to become its users’ daily newspaper.
Facebook’s Creative Labs (an in-house development team designed to move with startup-like speed) just issued Paper, an iOS app designed to present stories from a mix of friends and publications.
Paper’s first “section” is the user’s Facebook News Feed, formatted to look good on a mobile device. From there, the user can navigate to other themed sections, including design, sports, and food; Facebook claimed in a Jan. 30 blog posting that each section will include “a rich mix of content from emerging voices and well-known publications.”
The emphasis here is on visuals: users can tilt the phone to view the full extent of panoramic images; videos will play full-screen; and many of the more striking graphical elements that define the current Facebook layout, including covers, have found their way into Paper’s design. Users can also post their own stories from within the app.
Why does Facebook, ostensibly a social network, put so much emphasis on content? If Facebook can provide a constant stream of updates, people will return multiple times per day—boosting the company’s underlying metrics and ad revenue. Think of it as a variation of the “toothbrush test,” which dictates that the worthiest software products are those that people use at least twice a day; while Facebook might not offer features that people need in the same concrete way as email or search, it can gradually remold itself as a source of important information that people feel obligated to check every few hours. (If Facebook expands into the Internet of Things—as CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently suggested—that could mark the start of the social network as an outright utility.)
Paper is also the latest in a series of standalone apps released by Facebook, which include the notably popular Messenger. This new app strategy is an attempt on the social network’s part to extend its branding and functionality beyond the core Website; Facebook executives likely hope that this deliberate fragmentation can help the company better compete against popular startups offering new twists on traditional networking features (such as Snapchat). But can these new Facebook apps retain the younger users reportedly leaving the service in droves?