On Thursday, Facebook announced a new mobile app that offers a radically different approach to interacting with the social network. Paper, which will be available on iOS on Feb. 3, mixes News Feed posts and photos from friends with news content from media publishers in an attempt to craft a more relaxed and organized user experience.
Through Paper, status updates, photos and news posts are placed on individual, full-screen cards that users swipe left or right to scan through. Like a newspaper, the app contains themed sections for topics like sports and food, which users can incorporate into their feed. These sections will feature not only content shared among a user's Facebook friends but also content that Facebook notices is trending or that the company's human editors decide is worth sharing. The act of making a post has also been overhauled, with Paper offering a visual editor that allows users to preview what their post will look like.
The app has a heavy focus on presenting news from what Facebook calls “the world’s best sources.” Publishers such as TIME, USA Today, The New York Times and CNN are featured in a promotional video for the app, and their content will be used to help populate the app’s sections. Facebook has recently been focusing on increasing the quality of the posts on its network by tweaking its News Feed algorithm to surface articles from news organizations rather than meme photos.
By providing an app that is tailored to promoting news publishers’ work, Facebook likely hopes to entice them to post more of their content on the social network. The company is currently in a battle with Twitter to become the definitive destination for discovering news.
The stripped-down, visually-focused approach is also a nod to more modern publishing platforms like Instagram and Medium, which are considerably more streamlined than Facebook's chaotic combination of written posts, photos and games. The app is ad free right now, according to The Verge, but it's easy to imagine that it could one day be a useful platform to lure in brand advertisers who want to market through pretty pictures instead of typical News Feed posts.
Paper is part of Facebook’s larger strategy to diversify its product line across a variety of apps rather than cramming more functions into its main website. The company acquired Instagram in 2012 to stake a claim in the photo-publishing space and has a popular messaging app called Facebook Messenger. It also created a Snapchat clone called Poke in 2012, which failed to grab user interest.