Here’s Why Facebook Is Doing the Opposite of Going Paperless

Facebook

Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) on Thursday officially introduced a new app called Paper, which is no mere overhaul of the social network’s user interface. The idea behind the facelift is fairly straightforward: Rather than scroll through the News Feed, a user will be able to flip through cards organized by topic and populated with content such as status updates and photos.

It is “storytelling reimagined,” according to the company’s press release. The concept may be simple, but as Facebook’s description of the app seems to suggest, the company has big plans for the new app. The social network is trying to leverage its most important asset: the wealth of public content on its network. What might be called the “new” Facebook is designed to be an interface for discovery, where content is organized by topic rather than a ranked system determined by an algorithm.

“Your Paper is made of stories and themed sections, so you can follow your favorite interests. The first section in Paper is your Facebook News Feed, where you’ll enjoy inspiring new designs for photos, videos, and longer written posts. You can customize Paper with a choice of more than a dozen other sections about various themes and topics –from photography and sports to food, science and design. Each section includes a rich mix of content from emerging voices and well-known publications,” the company said. Facebook editors will choose the best and most popular stories.

FacebookThis reimagination of Facebook was intended to allow users to move through stories “with simple, natural movements” and make stories look better. Photos will be “high-resolution panoramic” and navigable, while “fullscreen autoplay videos [will] come to life and bring you deep into the action.”

Paper basically eliminates all buttons and other user interface elements so that status updates, photos, and news stories will appear full-screen, with navigation left to a basic set of gestures. With respect to the user interface, these new navigational tools are radically different from the vertical feeds employed by Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) and the original Facebook app, the result being sifting through content will be a more time-consuming process.

In an interview with The Verge, product designer Mike Matas and product manager Michael Reckhow would not give a yes or no answer to whether Paper was meant to be a replacement for the original Facebook app. Instead, Reckhow said that there are “tools that were out there for sharing high-quality stuff and also the tools where you could reach an audience,” but that too often those two tools are not the same thing. “We felt you shouldn’t have to choose between one or the other,” he said to the publication.

Facebook also realizes the popularity of so-called single-use apps like Snapchat, and the company intends to create more of those products, or as CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained during the company’s Wednesday earnings conference call, Facebook is pursuing “new and engaging types of mobile experiences,” of which Paper is the first example. The app is also the first product born out of Facebook Creative Labs, a company unit with a mission to “innovate and build new things,” Reckhow told The Verge.

Of course, the idea is ambitious: It requires users to download an entirely new application rather than absorb changes on the app they already have.

But Facebook is facing the problem of losing momentum. The company’s challenge is to keep growing. Almost half of the world’s Internet-connected population uses the social network, meaning the company cannot keep adding new users at the rapid pace it once did. Not only that, but Facebook is no longer the social networking site it once was, especially for the increasingly Internet-focused, social-media savvy youth of America.

Facebook is still an important medium for social interaction, but so, too, are Twitter and Snapchat. And as the company’s pull lessens, app developers are increasingly designing apps that compete with Facebook. No one rival has displaced Facebook, but that threat remains “as more and more people choose another social platform as their primary hub,” Khosla Ventures’ Keith Rabois told Bloomberg. All this is to say that Facebook’s launch of Paper is an attempt to make itself more attractive amid a vast array of social networking options.

Still, Facebook returned strong earnings for the fourth quarter. Revenue increased 63 percent to $2.59 billion from the year-ago quarter, beating the mean analyst estimate of $2.33 billion. GAAP income from operations increased 116.6 percent to $1.13 billion, while adjusted (non-GAAP) income from operations increased 98 percent to $1.46 billion.

Paper will be available to only users of Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone in the United States beginning February 3.

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