A lot has been written about Facebook this week, mostly because of its 10-year birthday, but also because of its release of two pieces of software. Lookback, a nifty little feature which celebrates a user’s activity in an automatically generated movie, is engaging, simple, fun and the topic for another article. The real stand out is Paper, the most crisp and clean software for iOS that the company has ever released.
Longtime users of the social media site and iOS may have doubts about downloading another client app for Facebook, especially since some basic functionality is built right into iOS, but they will be missing out if they don’t get a copy. News hounds may believe they already have a visually appealing and pleasurable way to read the news with Flipboard or Pulse, but when they get Paper they will see there is room for improvement. Anyone who has been reading about the company lately might think it’s just not cool anymore. They should be ready to be pleasantly surprised.
Paper is gorgeously understated. It guides the first time user with an introductory video and an unobtrusive walk-through of its basic features, encouraging the user to select some broad curated news sections to read along with their normal news feed of friends and subscribed content. It then reveals the swiping actions that allow access to settings and the tools for creating a post and editing sections, which may not be obvious to new users. Finally, it fades into the background, quietly allowing the user to browse and enjoy the content unencumbered by user interface nonsense or pushy branding.
Yes, the icons for friends, messages, and notifications are at the top right of the screen where they are expected, and, yes, the familiar like, comment, and share icons are at the bottom of the screen when the user is engaged with a story, but that is it. There is exactly enough interface to let the user know they are using Paper, and nothing more.
A complete rundown of details about the clean presentation, about how to swipe this way for one thing and that way for another, the tilt to pan awareness of photo content, the thoughtful, for some required, integration with read it later services like Instapaper and Pocket, the inspired sound effects, the crisp responsiveness — all of these Facebook Paper features will be commented on a great deal in the coming weeks.
Worthy of extra attention, however, is the sheer confidence of the product, especially the shift in attitude and culture that it suggests. Paper could easily become the main client for many users and its release demonstrates a sophisticated awareness of the importance of the rest of the internet, which some had come to believe was underdeveloped. Facebook was putting so much emphasis on pointing its users back towards itself, (admittedly a successful method of growing the user base to over one billion, because who doesn’t like to talk about themselves) that it ran the danger of collapsing in on itself like a social black hole.
With the release of Facebook Paper it is clear that even a publicly traded company (hello Microsoft) can turn cleanly on its heel and walk crisply in a new and better direction.
By Brian Ryer