Facebook is not one to shy away from making changes. It’s made a lot of them in the last couple of years, but with 1.1 billion users, experimenting with UI is hard. So hard, in fact, that Facebook on the web took a giant step backward and restored news feed design from two years back.
But Facebook Paper is different. It’s like a lab experiment from scientists who just got state of the art equipment, a piece of art by someone not burdened by the legacy of the past.
For me, Paper is an app that made Facebook interesting again, something that went dull in the last few years.
How It Works
Paper is a total re-imagination of Facebook’s mobile apps. The signature endless vertical scroll has been replaced with horizontal pages you flick through. It’s clear from the get go that Flipboard was a big inspiration for Paper.
When you launch the app, Facebook will ask you to choose some of your interests. You can pick up to 10 and these will then be turned into newspapers. Facebook knows Paper is new and so it has bundled helpful cues at every stage. As if the arrows were not enough, a helpful voice guides you through them. At first this does seem helpful, but soon it turns into an annoyance when it doesn’t trust your intelligence and explains every new trivial swipe gesture that didn’t need explaining.
Let’s stick with the newspaper analogy here. When you launch Paper, you get 10 newspapers to browse through, the first one is your Facebook news feed. Swipe to the right to access another one.
Half of the screen is taken up by a cover story carousel. Below which you’ll find a horizontal scroll of all the stories in the feed. While it might be a bit too small to read, it’s a really fast way to zip through the news.
See something you like? Tap it and the story takes up the whole screen, be it a status update, an app update or a shared link. Photos are displayed as panoramas by default. Making use of your iPhone’s accelerometer, you can tilt it left and right to see more of it. See a link you want to read? Just flick your fingers up to open it, much like Flipboard. When you are done, slide your fingers from top or the left or right edge and the web page will fold back.
You need to use the app to wrap your head around these gestures, but if you want to see what you are getting into before hand, Brian Lovin has created detailed GIFs of all the gestures (like the flipping gesture). Brian has done some great analysis about the design aspect of Paper which you should check out. Also see the Paper website see it all in action.
It’s Just Facebook
Once you get used to the gestures and the new UI, it will feel right at home, because at the core it’s just Facebook (without ads!). You can do everything in Paper you could do in the Facebook app. Access notifications, share updates, use Messenger etc.
Paper is beautiful. It’s trying to reignite the spark that once enchanted us all. Paper also serves as a testing ground for new features. And I hope some of the features from Paper (especially the background loading for links) make its way to the Facebook app.