I’ve never particularly enjoyed using Facebook on mobile platforms. Let me clarify: I don’t particularly enjoy using Facebook on any platform. It’s one of those parts of online life that I see as all but inescapable, but that doesn’t mean I like it. If you asked me to list modern social networks that are easier on the eyes than Facebook, I’d have to list almost all of them, and Facebook has historically had a particularly poor mobile experience, both in terms of mobile browsers and mobile apps.
Paper changes that.
Paper is the first product by Facebook Creative Labs, a new part of Facebook that allows small teams to try new ideas and interactions, and they’ve unveiled something that isn’t content to simply make Facebook more attractive. Paper makes Facebook enjoyable.
News Feed Plus
You can view your news feed in Paper. Unfortunately, the app seems to follow the Top Stories sorting by default, and I haven’t found a way to change this. In addition to your news feed, you can add curated content categories such as World, Technology, and Politics. The content of these categories is great, and I’m already supplementing my Feedly subscriptions with the content from these sections.
You can swipe up to enlarge the content of the feeds and then thumb through them the way you would swipe through pictures in a gallery. It removes all of the distractions common to Facebook, even hiding comments on a post or article unless you specifically tap to see them. As an additional bonus, unlike the official Facebook app, it’s very easy to prevent videos from autoplaying in your news feed.
A Visual Focus
Paper emphasizes photos like never before on Facebook. Big, bright pictures are everywhere throughout the app. The occasional low resolution image mars the experience, but it works very well overall. When your feed is full screen, images will fill the entire screen, and you can tilt your phone to pan horizontally across the picture.
The entire interface is visually driven. Opening posts and links create an envelope-like animation. Items slide in front of and away from each other. Your selected categories bounce subtly while managing feeds, and all of these animations help teach and reinforce the gesture interactions that power the app.
Facebook Plus Something Bigger
Outside of dedicated news readers, I can’t think of another app that so highly elevates others’ content. The Creative Labs team seems to understand that you can only add so many variations to looking at pictures from your friends and strange political ramblings from distant relatives. They have to deliver something more to make Facebook a compelling, and even delightful, experience. That’s where the curated news feeds come in. Paper treats content as king, and it serves Facebooks’ users all the better for it.
I was pleasantly surprised to find I can access all of my settings, pages, messages, requests, and groups through Paper as I would the Facebook app. Only now everything looks better. It is Facebook with no compromises and with none of the annoyances that come with the legacy Facebook app. I can’t tell you how dated the Facebook app and website feel compared to Paper.
The Last Word
Right now, Paper is a pure experience where you can view your news feeds and your friends’ posts without being bothered by suggested pages, trending topics, or even advertisements. The question is, how long can Facebook allow this experience to remain so untarnished? Perhaps if companies and news organizations pay to be included in the curated lists (and I’ve seen no evidence to suggest they do), then the app can remain free of the increasingly invasive ads that tarnish the Facebook experience.
As it stands, Paper is now my full-time Facebook app. I’ve deleted the original Facebook app from my phone and have not missed it one bit. It’s one step toward recovering a brand damaged by historically poor design choices, and I’m interested in seeing where Creative Labs goes next. For now, they’ve gotten me back to using Facebook more frequently, and that counts for something.