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By Zafar Jamati
From tricky timelines and endless pictures of cats and babies to the 'like', 'share' and even 'poke' buttons (what was that all about anyway?), Facebook seems like second nature now. But does anyone even remember a time before Facebook when, God forbid, we would actually have to endure a real life, face-to-face interaction with another human being?
Logging in to the social network opens up an entire world of possibility. You can see the most intimate updates from people in different time zones, plan group events for a hundred people and video chat with friends in far flung destinations. All of this is done straight from the palm of your hand and would have been impossible just a few years ago.
At least that was the vision at the outset, but how many of us actually do this? If you spend too much time logged in, it can begin to grate. Updates begin to get a bit too intimate; the tenth picture of someone's drunken night out is seen in the harsh light of day. And that group invite? Well it turns out that a good old fashioned voice call is quicker.
Despite being the world's biggest social media network, with 1.23 billion users, the rise of competing platforms such as Twitter, a news aggregator, and RSS apps such as flipboard and feedly have certainly raised the stakes. Not wanting to rest on its laurels, Facebook has driven forward by announcing its development of a new mobile app called Paper.
Paper, harking back to the physical newspaper, aims to revitalise the mobile Facebook app by eliminating that endless stream of similar statuses and replacing them with more compelling content.
Free of adverts, it seeks to become part news feed and part newspaper. What started as an experiment in some top secret labs in Silicon Valley has now seen the light of day. The app refreshes usability by replacing buttons with gestures, so readers can simply swipe between full page news stories and flick pictures in and out of full screen view. It’s all topped off with slick animations.
Bringing in news from multiple sources such as the existing timeline, Twitter, top news websites, and RSS feeds is a key attempt at adding value to the app. By creating a one stop shop of social updates, news, entertainment and trivia, Facebook hopes to 'lock in' billions of users and ultimately secure another ten years of success.
"We want to give people breathing room," explains Mike Mitas, Facebook's lead designer for Paper. "We want to move forward, but we don't want to come in and re-arrange the furniture. The old app will remain, so people can use it how they want."
So what does this mean for technical businesses using social media? Touchscreen and mobile use will continue to be the focus of developers, especially in emerging countries. In an open letter to all of its users, CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg explained that:
"Today, only one-third of the world's population has access to the internet. In the next decade, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to connect the other two-thirds.
“Today, social networks are mostly about sharing moments. In the next decade, they'll also help you answer questions and solve complex problems."
It's not known whether Paper will have the desired effect, or whether Facebook will even exist ten years from now. Ask yourself one question... could you live without it?
Let us know in the comments section below.