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Getting to Know Paper, the New Facebook App

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Facebook recently launched the Paper app for Apple iPhones. Paper is a cutting-edge alternative to the traditional Facebook app, complete with news feed/reader capability. (And no ads!) In this article, Michael Miller details how Paper works, how it differs from the Facebook app, and why you might want to switch.
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If you're a Facebook user and you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, there's a new app in town that you need to check out. Paper is an exciting new alternative to the traditional Facebook app. It gives the Facebook feed a lot more eye appeal—and functions as a full-fledged news reader, too.

Introducing Paper

Paper is a new app from Facebook that many users have chosen to replace Facebook's traditional mobile app. Paper was designed to change the way people use Facebook on their mobile devices. It's not so much a replacement for the standard Facebook app, but rather an alternative to it.

The Paper app presents the Facebook feed in a much more visually attractive fashion. Posts (stories) in your news feed appear in a side scrolling list of "cards" at the bottom of the screen, with a rotating list of images for featured stories displayed at the top (see Figure 1). Tap or drag a story up from the bottom to fill the entire screen, and then side scroll from one full-screen story to the next.

Figure 1 Paper, a new alternative for the traditional Facebook app

Pictures fill up the available screen space, and any side area of a photo that's not displayed onscreen can be seen by simply tilting your phone. Links to other web pages and articles fold open with a tap or upward swipe, and close with a similar downward swipe. All the movements seem natural and don't come with a huge learning curve. The app also feels faster than the older Facebook app; stories appear to load quicker and the news feed is updated in real time.

You can also use Paper to do all the other stuff you do on Facebook: create new posts, read notifications and private messages, chat with other users, and so forth. While not intended as such (or so Facebook says), Paper can definitely serve as a replacement for Facebook's traditional mobile app.

But Paper is more than just a Facebook app. Paper is a news reader, much like Flipboard, that aggregates content from across the web. By default, Paper contains 20 different "sections," organized by topic: Headlines, Pop Life, Home, and the like. Content in these sections comes from all across the web, as well as from Facebook groups and users. In this respect, Paper functions like a mobile magazine stand; you scroll and flip through the stories in each section much as you'd flip through a traditional magazine.

And here's something else neat about Paper. Unlike the traditional Facebook app, Paper does not display ads (or "sponsored stories") in the news feed. So if you're sick and tired of scrolling past endless ads in the traditional Facebook app, switch to paper and ditch the ads. (At least for now; who knows when Facebook will choose to add advertisements to the new app.)

Paper, like the traditional Facebook app, is free. Currently, it's only available for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch, not for the iPad or for Android devices. You can download it from Apple’s App Store.

Using Paper as a Facebook App

I'm guessing that most people will use Paper as a replacement for the existing Facebook app. That's certainly how I use it, most of the time. And for browsing Facebook, Paper is a winner.

When you launch the app, you see posts from your news feed in tall "cards" along the bottom of the screen (see Figure 2). This news feed scrolls horizontally instead of the traditional vertical scroll; the newest stories pop up at the left, and you scroll right to read older stories.

Figure 2 Paper's home screen: featured story on the top, horizontally scrolling stories on the bottom

Stories with accompanying pictures (or pictures from linked-to web pages and articles) look terrific in this new scheme; the visuals fill up the entire card. Text-only posts fare less well, so it certainly seems that Facebook is encouraging users to post more stories with pictures or links.

Above the news feed is an automatically scrolling list of featured stories. These are typically the most popular (and most recent) posts from your Facebook friends and groups. Each featured story appears by itself on the full top-screen space, so it attracts a lot of attention; the image from the story fills the space, while the initial text is superimposed on top. The top half-dozen or so features stories fade from one to the next every few seconds.

To view a complete post, all you have to do is tap it or drag it up from the bottom to fill the entire screen. Now you're viewing a post full-screen, which you can't do in the traditional Facebook app (see Figure 3). Tap the poster's name to view his or her Timeline page.

Figure 3 Viewing a story full-screen

At the bottom of each post are three icons for liking, commenting on, or sharing the post. Take the Likes and Comments link at the bottom right to display a pop-up panel of people who liked and commented on this post. Drag the panel down to hide it; drag the entire post down to return to the original split-screen view.

Figure 4 Viewing likes and comments

Any post that includes a link to another article or web page displays an image from that page. Tap or drag the image upwards to display the linked-to page full-screen; drag that page to the bottom of the page to display the original post.

As far as other Facebook functions, there are three familiar icons at the top right of Paper's main screen. Tap these icons to display friend requests, messages, and notifications, each of which explode down from the top in a new panel. Drag the panel down to hide it.

Other functions are available when you swipe down from the top of the main screen. This displays a menu of options that let you view your own Timeline page, create a new post, edit Paper's various sections, and configure the app's settings (see Figure 5). Tap the three-bar button at the top-right corner of this screen to view a list of your favorite pages and groups.

Figure 5 Paper's menu screen

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To create a new post, swipe down from the top of the main screen to display the menu’s screen, then tap Create Post. When the next screen appears, start typing (see Figure 6). Tap the icon at the bottom left of this screen to add a photo to your post; tap Post when you're done.

Figure 6 Creating a new Facebook post

Using Paper as News Reader App

As noted, Paper is more than just a way to interface with Facebook. It's also a full-featured news aggregation app, with curated content in a number of different sections or topic categories.

You switch from one section to another on Paper's home screen. Just swipe the top-of-screen featured story to the right and you move from the Facebook section to the next section in order. Keep scrolling to view additional sections.

Each section works the same as the Facebook section. There's a rotating display of featured stories at the top of the screen, with individual stories (from multiple sources) in a side-scrolling list at the bottom (see Figure 7). Tap or pull up a story to read it full-screen.

Figure 7 Using Paper as a news reader — the Flavor section

Where does Paper get its news content? From a variety of different sources. In the Headlines section, for example, you'll find content from the New York Times, Business Insider, Politico, the Huffington Post, BBC News, National Review, the Associated Press, and more. The Flavor section features content from Saveur Magazine, Epicurious, MilK Magazine, the New York Times' food section, and more. Other sections offer content from similarly appropriate sources—and all sections add content from Facebook users, groups, and pages when relevant.

The stories in each section have the same features as those in the Facebook section. You can tilt the screen to view more of a picture; tap or swipe up to view a story on its original web page; even like, comment on, and share stories with your Facebook friends.

I especially like that Paper's sections are customizable (see Figure 8). Swipe down from the top of the main screen to display the menu screen, then tap Edit Sections. Tap and drag any available section from the bottom of the screen to the top to add it to your personal list; drag a section from the top to the bottom to remove it from your list. Tap and drag sections at the top of the screen to place them in the order you like best.

Figure 8 Editing Paper's news sections

Should You Switch to Paper?

Given the smooth operation, attractive visuals, and added news reader functionality, it's tough not to recommend Paper to Facebook's mobile users. That said, some users may be confused by the lack of "chrome"—there's no menu bar or easy-to-tap icons or other navigational features you've come to expect and perhaps rely on. Instead, Paper expects you to learn some simple and naturalistic gestures to move from one element to the next.

I found Paper very easy to learn and even easier to use. Others, however, may prefer the traditional vertically scrolling news feed and ever-present menu bar of the existing Facebook app. But Paper is so different from the existing app—and presents Facebook in such a fresh manner—that it's worth your while to check it out. If you don't like it, just delete it and go back to the traditional app.

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