After years of experimentation, cancellations and redesigns, Facebook looks like it is finally going to launch in the coming weeks a news reading service built for mobile devices.
The product is known as “Paper,” according to a source familiar with the matter, and it is similar to Flipboard, a buzzy mobile-focused news reading app. Paper looks to be either a standalone mobile application or a Web experience suited to mobile devices, according to this person. Facebook could launch the app before the end of January, this person said, though the timetable could change.
Paper and Flipboard share a number of similarities, according to this person. Both essentially act as aggregators of rich media content, displaying a mix of news stories from publications like the New York Times or the Washington Post, along with status updates from Facebook users — all in a visually stunning “paper-like” format hearkening back to a time before digital devices.
The product is part of a multi-year effort from the team behind the News Feed, Facebook’s rich stream of never-ending content that flows down the center of users’ pages, populated with a mix of status updates, shared news stories and paid advertising from companies. The entire project is known as Project Reader, according to five sources familiar with the matter, spearheaded by Chris Cox, Facebook’s VP of product.
Like many Facebook initiatives, the Reader project originally began years ago as an idea to completely overhaul the News Feed itself, but after numerous delays and design refreshes, the project was split into pieces. Parts of the redesign made it into Facebook’s March refresh of the News Feed, according to three sources, when the team had not finished what would eventually turn into “Paper.” While this initiative has been Cox’s pet project, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has also been directly involved (as he has final oversight over Facebook products), according to sources.
Leading the project directly under Cox is user interface designer Mike Matas, according to two sources (and as was previously noted by The Wall Street Journal). Facebook bought Matas’s startup Push Pop Press in 2011. Before being acquired, Push Pop Press focused on digital book publishing software, elements of which Facebook said it would incorporate into its own products.
Aside from Cox’s strong desire to create a type of Facebook experience that people enjoy waking up to and scanning each morning — like a newspaper — Facebook could benefit from the project if it leads to increased user engagement and advertising views.
But earlier redesign efforts have been problematic. The company rolled out a refreshed News Feed in March of last year to a small group of users, but decided to hold off on a wider rollout after early results showed that user engagement had stalled, multiple sources said.
If the launch of Paper does indeed come in January, it will be the culmination of the News Feed team’s long slog toward finally shipping a finished product — something multiple sources said they had never expected to see the light of day.
But after shipping, Facebook faces another challenge: Getting its audience to actually use the product.
Facebook spokeswoman Jessie Baker declined to comment, adding, “We do not comment on rumors and speculation.”