Facebook on the desktop is a garbled mess, a hoarded layout of friend updates, ads, shared links and trending topics. If the pointless status updates from lost acquaintances aren’t enough to keep you away, chances are you’ve had issue with Facebook’s declining design, which has evolved into a social junkyard that’s becoming more difficult to decipher by the day.
Its new mobile app, Paper, on the other hand, belies what’s taking place on the desktop; it’s a beautiful experience that’s surprisingly inviting and fun to use, and makes you actually want to know what old friends are up to. Like Home, which was Facebook’s failed Android experiment, Paper is an experience that demonstrates the social network’s uncanny ability to create some terrific mobile apps—maybe some of the nicest on the market. Weird, I know.
Paper is comprised of your regular News Feed, along with “sections,” which include global headlines, celebrity news, sports scores, the latest tech reports and more, all curated by Facebook and based on social engagement from that particular publisher. Your own news feed is primary, and the first thing that dominates your screen, but you could just as easily go to the next section by swiping from right to left on the upper half of the app. Your whole News Feed can become secondary inside of Paper, which is more concerned with displaying media in a beautiful way than actually getting you to use Facebook. There are no ads, and outside of the main Facebook feed, little recognizable branding.
When you launch Paper for the first time, you’ll be very carefully shown how to properly set the app up—you can add and delete your preferred sections, though you’re unable to delete the actual “Facebook” section (of course). Paper is setup in a carded layout, with the top half square constantly cycling through popular stories in that particular section. The bottom half is dedicated to small cards with quick previews, which you can swipe through and tap on, bringing that particular story up. The experience is a lot like using Home; bring a story up, and it’ll fill your screen entirely.
Everything is consistent across the entire app; stories slowly cycle at the top half, with other stories waiting to be tapped on at the bottom. Bring up a story about the recent Super Bowl, for example, and the entire card will fill your display, with buttons to like, comment and share at the bottom of that story, along with some stats. If you want to read that story, swipe up, and a cool flipping animation, like unfolding a newspaper, will reveal the report right inside the app; to go back, simply swipe from the top down.
The ability to swipe and gesture your way around the app is silky smooth, as are the animations, and everything updates dynamically. There is no refresh button anywhere to be found in Paper; new content cards come sweeping in as they’re posted, with a little number and arrow indicator alerting users that there’s a new story to read.
Three buttons remain persistent when you’re in the main “half-and-half” view, including people you may know, messages and notifications; you can also swipe down from the main screen to reveal your own Facebook page (displayed in the Paper layout), along with a button to create a post, edit your sections and change settings, which include push notifications, auto pan photos and the ability to sign into a read later service such as Pocket, Instapaper and Safari Reading List.
Paper isn’t just about staying abreast of your crowded News Feed, but providing users with a platform to consume stories, whether it be about technology, sports or celebrities. Facebook could have just included the portion of your News Feed and called it a day, left it at that, but the social network went one step further, giving users an excellent mobile app that displays news in a beautiful way—there are no ads (yet), no overt branding, not even any particular emphasis on your own News Feed.
Sure, the app is likely designed to get you to comment and share on stories, but it’s still more beautiful than anything Facebook has done before, and a good reason to ditch your regular Facebook app altogether.