Facebook hasn’t had much luck with the ecosystem of apps it’s trying to create outside the regular Facebook app.
There’s Poke, an app that is almost a direct copy of Snapchat. There’s Camera, an Instagram clone that ended up launching shortly after Facebook bought Instagram for $US1 billion. There’s Home, an Android app that turns your home screen into a photo-rich layout of your friends’ Facebook posts.
None of these apps were hits. Not even close. Poke, for example, hasn’t been updated since December 2012, a sign that few if any people are actually using it.
(There is one outlier, Facebook Messenger, which is still one of the top social networking apps on iPhone and Android.)
Paper, the news curation app Facebook launched today, could face the same fate as the rest of those apps, but not because it’s a clone of another product. It’s because Paper is a largely a clone of the core feature of Facebook’s regular app, the News Feed.
Paper works by sucking in stories your friends share to their News Feeds. You can also pull in curated stories by topic (tech, entertainment, sports, etc.) that come from some of Facebook’s publishing partners and content others post publicly.
Think of Paper as your News Feed, but in a gorgeous layout designed for your smartphone’s screen. You can even write your own posts, view notifications, and send Facebook messages within the app. In short, it has most of the functionality as the regular Facebook app, just wrapped in a prettier package.
And that means there’s very little reason for someone to use Paper. It may look gorgeous, but Paper doesn’t offer much more than a hint at the future of Facebook’s app design. Outside of the curated story lists from Facebook’s editors, Paper just shows you the same content you’d read in your News Feed anyway.
Facebook’s attempts to copy rival social apps have largely failed. With Paper, Facebook has essentially copied itself. And if history is any lesson, the Paper app will probably be another dud. But it is at least a strong hint at what the rest of the company’s apps could look like in the future.