There’s a salient quote in Journalism.co.uk’s report on Facebook’s “new class of news apps” launched today:
“As we worked with different news organisations there were two camps: people that wanted to bring the social experience onto their sites, like Yahoo [News] and the Independent; and those that wanted the social news experience on Facebook, like Guardian, the Washington Post and the Daily,” director of Facebook’s platform partnerships Christian Hernandez told Journalism.co.uk.
So which is better? An initial play with the apps of The Independent and The Guardian appears to demonstrate the difference well. Here, for example, is the Facebook app widget as it appears on The Independent – or rather, as it almost appears: various other editorial and commercial choices push it onto the fold:
The Guardian app, meanwhile, hands over editorial control to the users in a customarily clean design:
But hold on, what’s this in my news/activity/information overload stream next to The Guardian’s article?
It appears that The Independent app takes the news to the users as well.
What’s happening here? Well, from a user perspective, unless you’re on the Guardian app page or The Independent, both apps work in exactly the same way: if a friend is reading an article on either, it will appear in your feed.
What’s the difference? In The Independent’s case, the friend has to be reading it on the site after having logged onto the Facebook app. In The Guardian’s case, they have to be reading it on the app page.
So in both cases, the publisher is asking the user to ‘come to us’. Whether the address begins with facebook.com or independent.co.uk – it’s still a click away.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that they’re not also taking the news to the users. Both have various Facebook pages which allow users to see stories directly in their news feed, and The Independent do this particularly well, as reported previously.
Both also have Like/Recommend buttons scattered liberally across their site.
So why install The Independent app? To see what your friends are reading while you’re on their site (if you scroll down a bit), and to reduce the effort needed to share what you’re reading.
Why install The Guardian app? This also reduces the effort needed to share your reading (both apps assume sharing by default), but also to get only the populist and socially-influenced view of the site.
In other words, they both actually do pretty much the same thing, with the key difference being that on The Independent, your Facebook friends’ reading is a small part of the editorial mix, and on The Guardian it is – along with the broader ‘most popular’ stories – the only part of the editorial mix. (If you want a different editorial mix, you can go to The Guardian’s website – but you’ll be missing the friends’ stream).
There’s a key extra ingredient here, too, however – and that’s the Facebook streams mentioned above. With The Guardian app I can see all the news my friends are reading, and access all the other Facebook functionality such as chat and messaging. And that make a big difference.
That said, I also feel ‘cut off’ from the wider, less popular, Guardian content and functionality on their app in a way that The Independent doesn’t suffer from.
So it comes down to what sort of editorial mix you want as a reader. And there may well be a place for both. But the news finds the users in the end, either way.