Do Facebook editions signal the end of the news site?
New “Facebook editions” from the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, News Corp.’s The Daily and others are a significant step in the evolution of online news delivery. Could these apps signal the beginning of the end of the traditional news website?
They just might. For all the work that publishers have put into adding personalization features and social sharing capabilities to their own websites, these announcements represent a shift in a very different direction: transporting that Web content – in its entirety, not just links – to the place where much of the audience is spending most of their time online. On Facebook.
“You can’t rely on users coming to you anymore,” Maya Baratz, head of new products at the Wall Street Journal, told Nieman Journalism Lab’s Megan Garber. Baratz's comment has significant ramifications for publishers, whose digital revenues are largely fueled by visitor traffic on their own websites.
The Journal’s new WSJ Social Facebook app offers select WSJ content, which can be read, shared and automatically pushed into the user’s newsfeed – all within Facebook. “The app creates, essentially, a publication that is personalized by way of selective social curation,” Garber writes.
Similarly, the Washington Post’s new Social Reader app, announced at Facebook’s F8 conference, aims to “change the way users interact with online news content,” according to Wired. The WP Social Reader provides full access within Facebook to stories from the Post and more than a dozen news and entertainment partners (including AP, Reuters, Mashable, Slate and SB Nation).
WP Social Reader also recommends content, creating what the company calls “a highly personalized news experience by publishing a selection of articles tailored to each person.” The app creates recommendations based on stories a user and his or her friends have read; as more friends use the app, the experience becomes even more personal and relevant.
So it’s clear these apps are all about social integration and personalization – at a much deeper level than publishers can offer on their own websites. “All a person needs to do is read a story in the Facebook app and it will be posted to his or her Facebook profile and to their friends' News Feeds, giving readers quick access to the stories their friends find interesting,” the Post states in its press release.
Much of these sharing capabilities are seamless. As soon as I logged into the WP Social Reader, my Facebook status automatically updated that “Rob O’Regan is using Washington Post Social Reader.” An “Invite Friends” button under the logo implores, “Don’t read alone.” Directly below is a “What People are Reading” stream of curated content – all of which can be read fully within Facebook.
Each post does have a link at the bottom back to the original article. But what’s the point, really?
The potential benefits to publishers are clear. The automated notifications of users accessing these apps to their social networks will expand audience exposure. The personalization features will provide important behavioral and interest data to publishers – and their advertisers. (Notice the traditional display ad and sponsorship banner on WSJ Social.) Inside Facebook offers some examples of how marketers could use Facebook’s new ad targeting capabilities based on the media they’re consuming.
A Facebook edition is a great play for paid content as well, which explains why The Daily was one of the first out of the gate with a new Facebook app. The Daily, News Corp.’s iPad-only publication, offers very little content on its website – primarily photos and short posts through its Tumblr blog. A Facebook app will expose far more readers to the Daily’s content – and, as News Corp is no doubt betting – turn some of those users into paid subscribers to the iPad app.
“The Daily’s website and blog will remain the same,” a spokesman told me in an email. “Tumblr is a great publishing platform to share content from their publication, create Tumblr-specific content, share content from others and create conversations. They are also looking forward to seeing if there will be some interesting interplay between the blog and the Facebook application.”
Not everyone sees a Facebook edition as the right way to leverage Facebook’s new functionality. Yahoo is taking the reverse approach, integrating Facebook’s new Open Graph feature into its Yahoo News site. From Mashable:
Once a user opts into the service (via the new Facebook permissions screen), she will be able to see what news stories her friends have read on both Facebook and Yahoo News. This simple two-way stream of information makes it possible to discover news content through your friends. The crux of the Yahoo News-Facebook integration is the “facebar,” a row of your friends’ faces that appear above any article you read.
This approach, GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram notes, allows Yahoo to keep the traffic and engagement instead of ceding it to Facebook. Ingram likens publishers’ Facebook editions to the ill-advised deals they struck in the 1990s with portals such as AOL.
But it’s clear that many media companies believe the benefits of playing within Facebook’s walled garden outweigh the risks. I expect more publishers to shift their content – and digital monetization strategies – from their own websites to Facebook.
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