Pencil. Paper. Forget the world.
Facebook Paper is now out… in the U.S.
Those of you outside the U.S. with a little bit of motivation probably have figured out how to get it already. If you haven't, you should. Paper is everything you'd want an interest-based social media to be…
… though it also lacks everything you'd want it to feature in a tool as central to a knowledge society as it hopes to be. But that's another story. Facebook Paper is, in a way, a perfect representation of where the company is heading.
The first time you come in contact with Facebook's beautiful new interface, it almost feels like you're holding a new phone in your hand. The aesthetics have something of these "vintage" iPhone ads (seven years ago, already), a mixture of pure avant-garde technology and retro, wood-like feel.
As a matter of fact, to paraphrase TP1's Jan-Nicolas Vanderveken, Paper isn't a separate app from your "usual" Facebook. It IS Facebook, with all of its functionalities, yet it is definitely superior to what you've been used to so-far in the f.-world.
In fact, adds Vanderveken, Paper should not be seen as a standalone product, but rather as the result of the company's A/B testing: in the end, one of the two will have to be abandoned. Or not.
Clearly, Paper is the prowess of a recently self-proclaimed "mobile first" company's (something we reported earlier) embracing the contemporary codes of design to deliver a viewing experience that mixes influences of Fancy, Flipboard and Pinterest. Only in this case, the release strategy has been improved upon, with both the old and the new able to coexist, at least for a short while.
The product being sold
Despite all its design fanciness, Paper is yet another display of Facebook's inability to fully exploit the opportunities that stem from its 1Bn+ user base. It serves us with a feed — this one lateral, yay! — that is filled with things that you don't really want to see. It is, yet again, impossible to customize, save for adding and removing friends from your timeline.
A strange currency, friendship these days…
There is something utterly vain in Facebook's thinking that it is more capable than its users to determine what it is that they would like to see. Though Paper has added "sections" — Tech, Enterprise, Headlines, Family, etc. — these new feeds cannot be customized either, and are filled with the latest posts from mainstream (American) media. As far as we can tell, these are not even media properties that we "like". They are simply "pre-registered" with Facebook, meaning that incumbents and smaller media properties once again lose to the leading ones (or the ones willing to ditch the cash).
Furthermore, the app's home page prominently features pictures (the top 60% of the screen), confirming that text-based contributions to Facebook's database will continue to be ever-more disregarded.
Out with the old, in with the new.
In this game, Buzzfeed always wins over the New Yorker. When you're the product being sold, click through is the only measure that matters, and in the world of Facebook, 3,000-word essays on Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism never get on top of cute cats anyway.
Thus, with all the love we feel towards Facebook (or perhaps, due to it), Paper is a disappointment : more of the same algorithmic exo-selection, window-dressed in a fancy Flipboard-like application. We'll adopt it, for sure. But despite all the glitz and glamour of its new app, as long as the company remains stuck in its desire for world-domination via a top-down selection of contents, it may find a way to bring in more revenue, but it is unlikely that it will succeed in drawing more of our attention.