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Feeding the beast: Facebook Paper and the problem with digital feeds

A furry friend stays  current by checking his News Feed. Facebook recently released  Paper, an as-of-now iPhone-exclusive app that hopes to refresh  the traditional  Facebook layout  for mobile users.  (Photo/Wikimedia  Commons)

A furry friend stays current by checking his News Feed. Facebook recently released Paper, an as-of-now iPhone-exclusive app that hopes to refresh the traditional Facebook layout for mobile users.
(Photo/WikimediaCommons)

Dylan LemertBy: DYLAN LEMERT
Columnist

Earlier this month, the folks at Facebook released what they called, “A fresh, new look for News Feed.”

The social media behemoth’s once much-maligned real-time update of posts, photos and general interactions has since become a staple in the decade (can you believe it?) since Facebook had its humble start in a dormitory of Harvard University.

This fresh, new look comes in the form of a new app from the Facebook development team led by Mike Matas, and it’s simply called Paper.

At the heart of Paper lies an experience that is somewhere between the traditional Facebook layout, the immediacy of Twitter, and, say, the niche newsworthiness of The Huffington Post. While users can still scroll through their News Feed, the process is horizontal, not vertical. Images are larger and more vibrant than in the old mobile app, going for what Matas describes in an interview with technology & culture publication Wired as, “the texture you get when you’re looking at a magazine.”

Nominally speaking, Paper sheds light on the very problem of digital feeds; the new app, although perhaps a step towards a remedy, is merely Facebook’s way of drawing attention to the problem they’ve created in the first place. As its name implies, Paper simplifies the famously congested News Feed by turning it into something crisper and cleaner, and lending more control in the process–again, more good than harm.

“Paper will live and die by the quality of its content,” says Kyle Vanhemert writing for Wired. And so it seems the real longstanding problem of Facebook’s patented News Feed isn’t one of design or aesthetic, but one of reckless user abandon. “Today […] there’s not much incentive to contribute good stuff,” continues Vanhemert.

But if the heart of the problem really is caused by a philosophy of low standards as both Matas and Vanhemert imply, then a simple design shift isn’t going to cure what ails (though I think that’s as good a place to start as any).

No, what needs to change is the fundamentality behind why we post what we post. At the most this requires a shift in our overall attitude toward the digital realm; at the least a healthy recognition that we often overrate our own postings. For social media to stay effective or even tolerable, a good user must know his or her limits.

Frankly, it says a lot about where Facebook’s been and where it’s going, that it would create an application intent on cleaning up an issue Facebook itself had unknowingly set in motion 10 years ago: again, how the problem of poor design is one thing (and an arguable thing at that), but how the subpar content that follows is often worse.

Paper is far from an end-all-be-all fix, especially for all those meme-crazed friends of yours who can’t seem to take a hint. But for those of us who one day dream of a more civil News Feed, Paper is a welcome step forward.

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