Random Facebook Paper thoughts

Facebook dropped its new iPhone newsreading app Paper yesterday and it’s getting universally positive reviews. And for good reason. It’s lovely. Some random things that have occurred to me as I’ve used it.

  • The interface is going to change mobile apps. It is almost entirely without chrome (as in, buttons and menus and such). All the navigation and interaction is done with swipes and gestures. This is not new. Other iPhone apps have established this kind of interface before, but none with the potential impact of Paper as Facebook has hundreds of millions of mobile users. The mechanisms set by Paper could easily become a new standard for other apps.
  • Which wouldn’t be a bad thing since they’ve been thoughtfully devised. After only a few seconds, I found myself intuitively getting¬†how Paper worked. That hasn’t always been the case for other apps using gestures for interaction. After an extended Paper session, I found myself trying to use the “swipe down to close” gesture to get out of a folder in iOS. It just makes sense.
  • Wither most recent? Paper seems to have the “top stories” feed view hard-coded into it. I think that’s bad news for frequent Facebook users (like yours truly). I’ve found that “top stories” rehashes things I’ve already seen or are out of date. For example, in the last 12 hours or so, I’ve noticed the large images above the news feed stories seem to be stuck. I keep seeing the same post by George Takai and one by another friend, both from yesterday. Same goes for the stories in the feed. Too much repetition and stale stuff when I know there are new things to see that aren’t there. The algorithm is either stupid or there’s a caching issue. In any event, I much prefer “most recent” but haven’t found a way to make that happen. More bad news for those of us who want more control over how we view our feeds.
  • Speaking of that big image above the feed, Paper cycles through a number of stories and pictures there but doesn’t seem to allow a way to navigate among them. The dots that usually indicate more “slides” in a “stack” actually indicate more curated feeds. So, if you swipe to the side, you get the next feed stack, not the next slide in the current stack. It doesn’t make sense and is an odd and glaring UI misstep in an otherwise lovely experience.
  • With regard to the other curated feeds, I’d like to be able to pick and choose which sources show up there or even make my own. Imagine being able to make a Tech feed made up only of pages you’ve already chosen to follow on Facebook. Maybe another that’s just high school friends. That would be pretty sweet. Hopefully, we’ll see that in future releases.
  • Releasing it as a stand-alone second option to the existing Facebook app (probably the single most popular mobile app in the world) is likely a smart move, but strikes me as very un-Apple-like. Also not very Zuckerberg-like. Typically, they seem to shove new approaches and views down their users’ throats with the suggestion to “trust us.” Not sure if this indicates a tempering of that attitude or just a healthy helping of corporate caution. Nor if it’s a good thing or bad.
  • No, there are no ads, but we all know they’re coming so please don’t whine about it when they show up.

Paper seems to be a logical and natural step in the progression of Facebook. The site and its apps are more and more becoming how many people get their news and find things to see and read on the web (which is exactly what Facebook wants, of course). I don’t think this is just another way to view Facebook or is a “Flipboard killer.” It’s the future of the platform.