Living with Facebook Paper

Most people have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. For many it has changed the way we interact online, and the launch of Paper earlier this year took things a step further, with a Flipboard-esque, super-minimalist approach to the social network on our smartphones (or in Paper’s case, specifically the iPhone).

It’s currently only available in America and is unlikely to officially come to the UK, or the rest of Europe, any time soon. Frustrated and wanting to try out this jazzy new format, I turned into an American for approximately ten minutes whilst I downloaded it from Apple’s US app store. First impressions were positive.

Aesthetically, it makes the standard Facebook app look a little dated. All traces of ‘Facebook blue’ have been wiped away in favour of plentiful white space and a heavy focus on media such as photos and videos. Standard status updates are also given a lot more breathing space.

The aim of paper is fairly similar to Flipboard, for anyone that has been familiar with that concept. It’s like a hybrid of Facebook and Twitter, pulling in news from your friends as before, plus news from other sources (all American at present) on your interests, such as technology. Starting the app allows you to customise your feeds, and you can swipe between your Facebook news feed, and technology (or other) feeds. Most people, I think, will use it as a replacement for the standard Facebook app, so how does it compare? Here are my initial thoughts after a month of using it.

*It’s worth bearing in mind that Facebook have since released an update for Paper in their US app store; seeing as I’m in the UK, I don’t automatically get these updates, so I will have to change stores again for this. Facebook have confirmed that birthdays and photo comments have since been added to Paper. I’ll review the Paper situation again once I’ve updated!

News Feed

As I’ve mentioned, you can have a few news feeds. To begin with, I really liked the novelty of the horizontally-scrolling feed, where your friends’ statuses appear on little cards, which can be tapped on for full view and comments etc. Above these cards are random photos or videos which friends may have posted, but I have found this area to be particularly annoying because you can’t swipe forwards or backwards to see the next/previous story; instead, swiping on this area takes you to your other feeds, such as technology feeds. I’ve also grown tired of the sideways scroll; I’ve come to the conclusion that the classic vertical scrolling motion is far more user-friendly and less tiring for the eyes. You begin to feel a bit sea-sick when scrolling through Facebook Paper.

News Feed comparison

News Feed comparison

Interactions & Animations

As I said, the interactions in Paper are lovely and a serious improvement over the standard Facebook app. You can easily see who has liked a post with a neat display of profile pictures; if you don’t immediately recognise the person from the small thumbnail, or they aren’t all displayed because you’re a master at gaining likes, you can tap on them and they fan down to reveal the names in a list. Liking something also produces a neat little confetti-effect complete with sound effect, and it just makes liking something that little more satisfying!

Other interaction behaviours will be familiar to users of Pinterest or Twitter; dragging down on pretty much anything makes it disappear, cutting out any need for close buttons. Tapping on a link is a particularly pleasant experience; it opens like a folded newspaper, and you drag down to close it.

Posting

You drag down from the top of your news feed to create a new post, something that isn’t immediately obvious. The overall experience is nicer, but you can’t post multiple photographs in one go, which you can do in the standard app. Another feature that is lacking in Paper is the ability to comment on somebody’s post with a photograph; it’s strictly text-only here. If you change your mind half way through writing an update, it’s an effort to cancel. Rather than installing an easy ‘cancel’ button, as with the standard app,  you have to press ‘done’ to hide the keyboard, then drag down from the top, which reveals a bin and a delete button. The interactions are pleasant but overall, it takes longer to do than the standard app.

Posting comparison

Posting comparison

Profile

The profile is nicely designed, but feels more like an early design idea than a finished product. The user or page’s profile image sits in the corner over the top of a large cover image, similar to the standard app. The difference is that there is considerably more in the way of buttons overlaying this image, which limits the user far more in terms of choosing good imagery (the current Yummy Custard Facebook page jars completely with Paper). Again we have the horizontal scrolling and cards featuring key information and photographs; all easier to access than the standard app, but more tiring to flick through.

Page/profile comparison

Page/profile comparison

Photos

When clicking on a photo that somebody has posted, Paper automatically scales it to fill your screen. If the photo is landscape orientation, tilting the phone left/right allows you to pan across the image, which is an interesting interaction, but I find it a bit dizzying. Instead, you can tap the photo again to view it in full, presenting a view that is near identical to the standard app. So there is quite a bit of crossover with certain elements.

Photo comparison

Photo comparison

Requests/Messages/Notifications

These are placed at the top of the screen like the old, pre-iOS7 Facebook app, but the familiar blue Facebook toolbar is removed, so the icons sit over the news feed image, with blue indicators displaying any new notifications, rather than the usual red. These interact in pretty much the same way to the standard app, though you can still access your messages inside Paper. In contrast, the standard app has recently started to force users to use Facebook Messenger in order to view messages, which means exiting the app. Reports suggest this is the ‘future of Facebook’; multiple apps in order for Facebook to gain a broader ownership of our app usage.

Accessing your groups, pages, events

Events and birthdays aren’t displayed obviously in Paper, and I’ve only come across any events I’ve been attending through the news feed. You access your groups/pages by dragging down on the news feed and tapping on the menu burger in the top right corner. This brings up a list of your groups, pages that you manage, and pages that you’ve liked, all in a long list, so it’s easy to find things in this respect. Tapping any of them takes you to that group, displayed in a similar way to profile pages, whilst what was the menu burger is now a ‘close’ icon, allowing you to get back to the main menu. This is a nicer experience than the standard app but feels as though an element is missing.

Menu comparison

Menu comparison

Speed

I’ve noticed the app to be particularly slow. This is likely to be down to it being a small project; it’s only launched in America because it wouldn’t cope with everybody in the world using it at the moment. The news feed is slow to refresh and the only clue that the app is refreshing itself is given by the gently pulsing Facebook logo. If new content arrives, you have to be quick and tap the ‘new content’ counter; there’s no dragging down to refresh here.

Overall?

I’ve used Paper solidly for the past month instead of the standard Facebook app. I’ve been able to configure my notifications to come from Paper whilst the standard app has rested quietly in another folder. Over this time I’ve enjoyed the new experience, but have slowly grown more frustrated with certain elements of it; the horizontal swiping, lack of certain features and annoyingly random ‘headline’ photos that appear in the top half of the news feed. I’ve barely looked at the other news feeds, which Paper was originally supposed to focus on. Aesthetically, however, it is a vast improvement over the standard app which does feel dated, even in its latest form, and the team behind Paper should be congratulated on their innovative work.

The current, standard app may feel clunky (leading the user out of the app to access their messages from the same platform seems a bit cumbersome), and it might look tired in comparison to Paper, but the overall experience feels far easier and more familiar. That could be because we’ve become to accustomed to it over the past few years. Whilst Paper is a beautiful piece of design, the standard Facebook app is still the choice for speed and user control.

 

If you’d to know more about Paper, chuck me a tweet! Thanks for reading.

Other articles on Paper from Wired and TechRadar:

Facebook updates Paper (April 2014)

Facebook’s app dilemma