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Facebook's Paper App Is Stylish and Interesting, but Has Critical Flaws

A cool concept, but not a replacement for the standard Facebook app.
A cool concept, but not a replacement for the standard Facebook app.

For years, Facebook's mobile development has been oddly haphazard. From the painfully inconsistent upgrades to its flagship app to the random release of various apps for an array of different needs (Pages, Photos, etc), it has felt more like the mobile team at FB was divided up into about 20 different divisions all operating with complete autonomy. Most recently, they came up with Paper, a stylish new app designed to leverage shared links and provide a more news-based interface for the social network. Even the name echoes the idea that this is like reading a newspaper, not a social media website.

The first and most obvious change with Paper over the traditional Facebook app is how it looks. Built to take advantage of upgrades in iOS 7 (this is only available for iPhone currently), it has a modern look and feel with a smooth workflow. The main screen serves as a cooler looking Timeline with updates split between a lower series of panels that look like flash cards and a larger space above that has more graphic content. Like most apps, you swipe through the spaces to see various updates and touch them to get more info.

There is even a way to store items for later, a particularly handy function for when you just want to flip through updates without having to browse content in long form at the moment.

It also has some of the basic Facebook features like notifications, messages and viewing profile pages. You can make status updates as well and share items with friends. The game changer -- at least for some -- is how it handles trending topics.

If you haven't been paying attention, Facebook has gotten into the trending topics game. Much like Twitter, Facebook now shows its trending items in the right column of the website through the browser interface. And, much like Twitter, it is able to be broken down by category. Paper takes advantage of that by allowing users to create categories of news and updates like sports or music. Think of it as Facebook's answer to Twitter's "lists" but instead of following users, you are following topics.

From an information gathering standpoint, it's rather unique because it shows what people are interested in at any given moment in a number of different categories. It is a quick and easy way to check the "news" of the day.

All of this has led some to abandon the original Facebook app for Paper. But, there are some issue with Paper that should not be ignored.   No Page control.

If you control a business page, you won't be able to manage it through Paper. Facebook has struggled with allowing individual users the ability to manage a Page outside of the browser interface or the Pages app, most specifically responding to posts as an organization rather than as an individual. This problem continues in Paper.

Categories are limited.

There are currently 19 categories provided by Facebook ranging from "Headlines" to "LOL" and "Cute." Some are topical like equality and gay pride while others are specific to urban dwellers or interests like sports or photography. The problem is that the categories are strangely specific without covering certain obviously broad areas like music (which is wrapped into "Pop Life"). If you are really interested in following topics about, for example, politics, you'd have to view all news topics to see those. An RSS feed this is not.

No "most recent" view of timeline items.

Probably the most annoying characteristic of Facebook in general is its desire to steer me away from what people posted recently and focus me instead on what its algorithm considers the stuff I will find to be the most interesting or important. This might work for someone with relatively narrow interests or only a couple dozen friends, but anyone with 100-plus friends or a diverse base of interests will miss a lot. At least in the app and through a browser, you can choose Most Recent (though it defaults to Top Stories). In Paper, you are stuck with whatever Facebook deems most important even if it is a post more than a week old you've already read.

This is the one thing that means, at least for me, that Paper is generally worthless. If I can't decide what posts from my friends I want to see, I don't really care to use the interface. I can certainly see its benefits for looking through various categories of trending interests, but as a standalone Facebook app, it has a long way to go.


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