REPORT: Facebook is building a reader

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Ahead of the mysterious June 20 product announcement, some tech media pundits believed that Facebook was about to launch some kind of reader, where Facebook users could receive news and updates from pages and blogs they care about. Especially with the imminent death of Google Reader, Facebook seems like a logical place for this to happen.

News of a reader resurfaced Monday, as The Wall St. Journal reported that Facebook is indeed working on such a product (called Reader) that would allow mobile users access to feeds they’ve created. There’s no timetable for a launch.

The Wall St. Journal indicated that early versions of Reader look much like popular mobile syndicator Flipboard, an application for iOS and Android devices.

As Facebook aims to become not just a part of users’ lives, but the platform, a reader appears to be a natural next step. When Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s co-founder and CEO, announced the redesign of News Feed, he even said that he wants Facebook to become a personalized newspaper.

However, users weary of Facebook’s News Feed algorithm could continue using Google Reader-like alternatives.

While Facebook declined to comment to The Wall St. Journal, the newspaper described the product that Facebook is reportedly working on:

The social network has been quietly working on a service, internally called Reader, that displays content from Facebook users and publishers in a new visual format tailored for mobile devices, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The project, which the company has been developing for more than a year, is designed to showcase news content in particular. Recent versions of Reader resemble Flipboard Inc., a smartphone and tablet app that aggregates stories from multiple sources and lets users swipe to flip through articles, said the people with knowledge of the project.

The story made comparisons to Flipboard, which is based in Facebook’s former stomping grounds of Palo Alto, Calif. Flipboard is a highly visual reader app with roughly 56 million users across iOS and Android. Users can create their own “magazines” of content from sources they want to read. Users can also subscribe to magazines from content publishers such as The Guardian and Fast Company.

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It seems that Facebook has been building Reader for quite a while, and offered users a taste of what it could be like in the redesigned News Feed. With the new Facebook News Feed, users can click (or tap on iOS), the tab for “Following,” and get a feed of the pages they’ve liked and the celebrities they’re following free of the maligned algorithm.

But Facebook’s Reader will probably not be as straight-forward a product at Flipboard. The report by The Wall St. Journal notes that it’s highly likely Facebook Reader would come with advertising. For instance, if you’re flipping through stories about Silicon Valley in a list you’ve curated, you might see ad stories in this list for website builders or social marketing companies. While there’s no evidence one way or the other in the early stages, it’s easy to see how Facebook could apply some form of algorithm to the reader, delivering the stories that they’d be most likely to share or comment on up at the top of the “magazine.”

Sources told The Wall St. Journal that Facebook is focused on building Reader for iOS first. They also described to the newspaper the role that Zuckerberg has played in this project:

Mr. Zuckerberg is watching the Reader project closely, one of the people with knowledge of the matter said, and he has provided input and reviewed aspects of the design at various turns.

While Mr. Zuckerberg has made “move fast and break things” a Facebook company mantra, the development of Reader has been relatively slow and deliberate. The team has focused on creating a product experience that works on both tablets and smartphones, the person added, and it has explored different ways to highlight news content to users, including showing public posts that are trending on the site. The idea, the person said, is to create an experience that encourages users to dive deeper into content and spend more time with Facebook.

Facebook, once again, is entering a space where there’s already solid competition. When the social network came out with Poke, as a way to compete with popular time-bomb messaging app SnapChat, it fell flat. Recently, Facebook added video to Instagram in a move that many saw as the company’s entry into the market that Vine was starting to own.

If Reader is launched and its capabilities are similar in nature to Flipbook, Facebook won’t exactly be breaking new ground, but simply importing features that people use elsewhere on the Internet, and connecting them to the power of its social graph.

RSS image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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