According to the Wall Street Journal‘s Evelyn Rusli, the project, developed for the past year under the working-title ‘Reader’ could allow Facebook’s 1.1 billion members to access personalised news content “from Facebook users and publishers in a new visual format tailored for mobile devices”. It is thought that the app will work closely with topics and posts that are trending on the main Facebook site, thereby encouraging greater and more immersive interaction on the reader’s part. The ability to easily find and access long-form articles via mobile devices would encourage Facebook’s users to spend longer on the company’s mobile applications, which though widely used, often fail to retain a user’s attention for longer than it takes to write or like a post.
The supposed mobile news venture signals the social networking behemoth’s desire to further infiltrate the world of news publishing as a means of tailoring its services ever-more comprehensively to its users’ interests. Signs that news media would be Facebook’s next target have been appearing thick and fast since the beginning of this year, and rumors were fuelled by CEO Mark Zuckerburg’s comment in March that he hoped that Facebook could become “the best personalized newspaper in the world.” Meanwhile earlier in June the developer Tom Waddington claimed to have found mentions of RSS feeds in Facebook’s codes that had nothing to do with existing elements on the site. In fact, news of a Facebook Reader has been so hotly anticipated that for a brief time several media outlets mistakenly suggested that the unveiling of Instagram video on 20 June would in fact be the launch of Facebook’s news content service.
Though work on Facebook’s ‘Reader’ is believed to have begun long before the announcement that Google would be terminating its own RSS news feed on 1 July, and Rusli remains unsure as to when and whether Facebook’s service will see the light of day, the demise of Google Reader will leave a gap in the news aggregation market that many hope to fill. Digg has publicly announced its intention of launching its own reader by the end of June and Feedly’s user numbers have trebled to 12 million since the withdrawal of Google Reader, showing that public demand is still high for an effective content aggregator, despite Google’s assertion that this aspect of its services had recently suffered from a decline in interest.
That said, it may prove difficult for Facebook and others to challenge the supremacy of Flipboard, with its 50 million users, its recently improved curation functions and slick tablet presentation. That said, Facebook’s updates to the News Feed function, which allow users to see articles friends have read, liked and recommended, have arguably allowed the site to begin to position itself as a first stop for news updates and information.
Though the company is so far shying away from confirming the existence of its ‘Reader’ project, the lure of the advertising revenue that could be generated by such a venture could see an official announcement of Facebook’s mobile news service in the coming months.