Facebook Paper Review

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Facebook is starting to struggle to remain relevant. Reports of young users viewing it as dead as Myspace and Friendster surely have sent Zuckerberg into a frenzy. Investors still don’t see Facebook as a viable way to turn a profit – a problem since its inception. How do you monetize the site without alienating its huge user base? Despite these troubles, however, Facebook maintains its current popularity through it’s ability to morph and innovate. It is Facebook’s willingness to change how we interact on it that keeps us interested, despite vocal and irate users claiming otherwise. Remember the petitions against the timeline feature? All but disappeared by now I imagine. Every time Facebook changes it becomes harder to remember that it wasn’t always like the way it is right now. Thanks to its malleability, Facebook has yet to stagnate.

February 4th was Facebook’s 10th Anniversary, which is a remarkable achievement given the internet’s fickle and ephemeral nature. To celebrate its creators have just debuted a new way to use their product: Facebook Paper. Or just Paper actually, there is barely any Facebook branding to be seen when you launch the app.

Paper is an iOS app that fundamentally changes the way we can interact with Facebook. Its best feature? It is completely optional. A lesson surely learned from Facebook’s change wary users.

Paper is an effort to change Facebook into a personally curated digital newspaper. When you open the app you are taken through a tutorial that teaches you a new set of gestures to control the app and the functions it provides. The biggest change is now you have access to multiple Newsfeeds. There is, of course, your personal one, full of posts by friends and the latest from your liked pages. Then you are able to choose nine other feeds, from a crop of nineteen different topics, to build your own personal paper. Right now Facebook is offering feeds such as Headlines for the latest world news, Creators for posts from artists and designers, Pop Life for entertainment, and of course LOL when you just need to giggle.

Each feed you choose lines up horizontally, and you can swipe between them at any time. A Newsfeed is topped with a large image (about 50% of the screen) that changes to reflect the most popular stories (I think). Below are smaller story cards to flick through, again, horizontally.

The app is animated beautifully and fluidly. Story Cards slide up and fill the screen. Links are transformed into little windows to their destination, that when tapped (or swiped upwards) unfold like a newspaper. Landscape photos are blown up to fill the screen, but you can just tilt your wrist to pan across the image and get every detail.

Paper feels like a reinvention of how Facebook treats the mobile platform as much as it changes the purpose of Facebook itself. Paper is designed to take full advantage of the screen, you will never need to zoom to read text, or see a picture, the screen is constantly used in its entirety. Paper doesn’t shrink the web into the iPhone, it rebuilds it in a way that plays to the iPhone’s strengths.

If Paper has achieved anything it is that it has created a space in which I will actually read the news. Having the ability to switch between personal newsfeed full of posts from my wonderful friends and the latest world news is surprisingly seamless and complementary. The news I like next to the news I should know. It is a new level of personalization of Facebook.

On top of its new presentation and interaction Paper provides Facebook’s standard functionality of notifications, timelines, and messages (though the messages aren’t redirected to the separate Messenger App for some reason). Because of this Paper functions as a viable replacement to the regular app. In fact I have had all Facebook related notifications that appear on my phone route through Paper. The enjoyment and aesthetic of Paper has trumped the familiarity of the standard mobile app.

For now though Paper’s gestures remain occasionally inconsistent. You swipe up link cards to unfold their content, and then swipe down to close them. Too many times have I attempted to scroll to the top of the article and closed the link instead. Thankfully the link will reopen where I left it. Also, text-only posts feel thin and easily dismissed. The font, while attractive, is centered on the story card, leaving a distracting amount of whitespace. Most quick, or witty, status updates look insignificant against links and photos. That said, I’m not sure I know a better way to handle text-only posts. Blowing up the text to take up the whole card would likely feel cluttered and distracting in a whole different way. But the significance of Paper is that it feels experimental, so if there is a better way, I’m sure Facebook’s engineers and designers can figure out what it is.

These inconsistencies are growing pains for Paper, and learning pains for the user. Some things will be adjusted and others we will adjust to over time.

Paper is a must download if only as an experiment. If its content and simplicity first approach proves unusable for you, just delete it and return to the standard app – no loss. However, I expect that you’ll find Paper an enjoyable new way to connect with friends and learn about the world.