Facebook Paper’s Pinhole Browsing

A fast and rough opinion piece


The following comes from my response to a company email (below) that asked designers for their opinion of FB Paper. I have not spent so much time as to give a critique of all aspects of the app. There are things I’d like to say about post creation, browsing profiles, and the new user onboarding for example, but simply didn’t take the time to go there. This is a hot topic for the moment, and I might continue to write/think about it, but there are a lot of intelligent people sharing diverse opinions out there. I think this can suffice for me.

The Prompt

TO ALL: I used Paper for about 30 minutes tonight and felt there were some interesting interactions but overall was a bit frustrated. Definitely felt the “hook pain” the author here writes of… What do you guys think?

My Response

The design podcast, On The Grid, talked about their first impressions of Paper in this episode.

Opinions seem pretty polarized. A lot of people love it because it is agreeably much more polished than the regular functional Facebook app. I think if they had replaced their primary app with this one, there would be an uproar; but as a supplemental experience people, seem to like this new lens of the news feed (and other stuff?).

I’m not so kind in my opinion. I had high hopes of Facebook waning enough to go down a slippery slope of MySpacey death, but this app seems to appeal to the masses initially. As mentioned in the podcast and other sources, Facebook’s intent was to slow down our consumption of content with the hope that we pay more attention to each post. I believe these are smart guys, and they undoubtably understand their users better than I do, but I just can’t fathom slowing down Facebook without also reducing the amount of content.

Matas hopes that you’ll flip through slowly. “You really want people to spend a little bit of time with it and appreciate that content,” Matas says, “almost like when you go to a museum and you spend a little bit of time with each thing.” — The Verge

I think that’s easier said than done. By only showing two whole thumbnails at a time, I am instead frustrated by the pinhole scope of content that I can browse. Perhaps they’re designing for the future, a vision of Facebook with much more interesting content, but the present feed I get from my connections is a 95:5 crap-to-interesting ratio. Slowing down and smelling the digital roses is not what I want from Facebook. I want to quickly skim frequently updated, vast amounts of content, until I land on an interesting picture, link, or juicy argument to read. Much like trying Windows phone for a week, I felt like my hands were tied. I wanted to zoom out.

This approach might work best for the other editorial sections they’ve vaguely collected (‘tech, culture, cute, etc.’) where content and curation is better. My complaint on this front is the lack of context. Looking at the Tech tab for example, what should I expect to find? Articles from TheNextWeb, NYTimes Tech, Engadget, A List Apart, The Verge? There’s quite a difference in the quality of writing and topics covered between sources. I don’t know how each of these channels are curated, how or if they’re connected to my account, and have no ability to customize them. At least with Flipboard, you can customize your content sources (note: I don’t use that app either).

The one thing I did like is vertical the swipe navigation. It’s nice that I don’t have to stretch my thumb across the screen to hit a specific region that has the link or CTA. I can hold my phone in one hand and a broad gesture moves me up or down in the hierarchy of channel, thumbnails, article preview, article detail. I agree the horizontal motion would get tiring. Maybe if they moved that row of thumbnails to the top of the screen it would be more comfortable, but I don’t like this browsing mode in the first place.

— whew —

Sorry for all the negativity.

I prefer ease of use, and am quickly skeptical idealistic presentations.

This app hinders my personal browsing preference of Facebook content, and does not seem to achieve the ideal they put forth. It might be a nice RSS reader, but then it would just be yet another RSS reader.