Facebook unveiled its latest effort at engaging users today, a new iPhone app called Paper that will be released Monday. Unlike Facebook’s existing smartphone app, which is purely functional, and the irritating mobile experience of Facebook Home, this one looks beautiful and easy to use.
Paper looks like a cross between your existing Facebook news feed and a news reader app, with both status updates from friends and news stories. The app eschews buttons and menus in favor of simple swiping gestures. Instead of the standard news feed you see large images that you can tilt your phone to reveal more of, auto-playing videos, and status updates that fill the display.
You are encouraged to consume content from outside of Facebook without leaving Paper, by choosing categories of online media you’d like to see in addition to your usual news feed items. Each of those categories - such as food, photography, sports, and science - can be leafed through like a tiny magazine.
All this, plus a number of other stylistic touches, make it clearer than ever that Facebook understands the necessity of branching out as it ages (the company turns 10 on Tuesday, which is practically ancient in Internet years). If it wants to continue growing and keep the users it already has, it needs to find more ways for them to engage with the social network. Paper also offers another venue for showing ads, and I expect Facebook to eventually serve up plenty of these in there alongside the content, just as it does in its main mobile app.
Fortunately, Paper looks like an even more captivating way to check out friends’ status updates and read the latest news, which could benefit Facebook and us. I’ll report back after trying it out next week.