Twitter has long been the dominant source for social media users looking to stay up-to-date on world news. Over half of Twitter users get at least some of their news from the social media platform, marking users’ feeds as powerful news delivery systems and a major draw for new users to the service. As you likely know, this hasn’t escaped the notice of the biggest player in the social media sphere.
In mid-January, a Facebook update added trending topics to the service, hoping to do for Facebook’s 1.4 billion users what Twitter is so good at doing for its 645 million. Like Twitter, Facebook now runs a list of trending topics, tacking on a short summary of each news story. While Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook team were undoubtedly hoping for a positive response to the site’s change, the reality is a little less rosy. One Facebook user responded to the update with “Who cares…” on a Huffington Post article covering the new feature, and that seems to echo its general reception.
Part of the problem is that Facebook isn’t just competing against other social media platforms and their users; in a sense, they’re competing against the news industry as a whole. In fact, 59% of journalists around the world use Twitter to find breaking stories, locate reliable sources, and publish and share their content in a place where they know it will be found.
It’s no wonder why Twitter is the space both so-called “citizen journalists” and vetted reporters go to get their news and report it. Consider, what other platform would allow such ready access to an audience for the Syrian opposition forces, Iranian political dissidents, or others living in countries that trample free speech and the freedom of the press? Unfortunately, Facebook’s trending function just doesn’t have the same real-time reporting oomph as Twitter.
Facebook’s new ‘Paper’ app, released today for the iPhone, might bring it one step closer to knocking Twitter’s bird from its perch. ‘Paper,’ featuring an interface that looks distinctly like a traditional newspaper, has been engineered over years with the hopes of delivering a high-quality, customizable source of news in a far more aesthetically pleasing way than Twitter’s drab newsfeeds. The new mobile app will function separately from Facebook’s flagship app, the first of many applications written to serve users’ specialized needs.
While Facebook’s news app could make it a more viable contender in the social media newspace, it isn’t without its issues. ‘Paper’ will aggregate stories into its digital newspaper by picking from stories shared by friends, but it will also add a dash of flavor by featuring stories that it finds to be of high-quality, a markedly subjective way to cherry-pick posts. The problem is that this may lead to a censoring of news shared by friends and that shared by news sources, whether they’re reputable or not. What’s to stop the Facebook editorial team from using the new service as a marketing vehicle, only publishing content from sources that offer the highest bid?
For now, we’ll all have to wait and see if this latest move by Facebook will have any effect, whether on its own user-base or Twitter’s. ‘Paper,’ launching today, doesn’t yet feature any advertising functionality, so users’ “papers” will be at their most organic. One thing is for sure: Facebook and its relatively new stockholders will be pacing until they see whether ‘Paper’ earns readers or if it’ll be better used as kindling.