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What Would a Facebook Reader Mean?

Last week multiple signs started to appear that point to the fact that Facebook might be prepping a news reader. While there has been discussion of the possibility few, if any, have tried to figure out what it would mean in general. Admittedly, there are few details, but it’s not that hard to extrapolate from past actions. You need to look at this from a couple different perspectives though. Why does this make sense for Facebook, Publishers, or the consumer? Finally, could it work?

First off, I think it makes sense for Facebook. If the newly public company had a list priorities growth and profits have to be at the top. With the street breathing down their neck they have entered new markets and cut out existing partners wherever there is even a little money to be made. One way to increase revenue is to increase page views, and thus ad views. So, the more they can get you to consume information on Facebook they better off they are.

It’s even a better idea when we look at mobile. The second birth of newsreaders is all due to mobile consumption. Reeder, Mr. Reader, Sunstroke all brought a second wind to a decaying product and extended it’s reach. If we throw Flibpoard, Google Currents, and other visual news readers the potential sherlocking gets even bigger. Think, what if Facebook has dedicated readers for the iPhone, and iPad, maybe Android? Built in social graph. The ability to cross promote the hell out of these apps. From Facebook’s perspective it keeps looking better.

This is where publishers come in. People already consume their content through the newsfeed via Facebook Pages, but this probably isn’t the best model for news content. Facebook might choose to create a new feed that consists only of news sources a user has chosen to subscribe to. They might even eliminate the blackbox algorithm on this feed and let users browse all the news they have subscribed too. They might even let users drill down to individual sources.

This makes sense to publishers for a couple of reasons. First, many news publishers already have RSS feeds of some kind, so it would be a very easy technical transition. Second, Facebook Pages are an okay way of doing engagement on Facebook, but I am sure that publishers would rather have a direct line to it’s users. This might loosen the path. Finally, Anyone who is paying attention to their subscriber base on Google Reader will realize that they are about to loose a giant slice of readers. If Facebook is actually proposing something close to a Google Reader replacement this might be an opportunity to salvage those readers.

Lets look at an example like Deadspin. They have 115k likes on their Facebook page. Which gives them a chance at reaching those subscribers every time they publish something to that page. Now we look at how many people subscribe to Deadspin on Google Reader; 221k.

Deadspin on Google Reader

Not only do they have almost twice the readers on Google Reader, each story is probably read more often then it is on Facebook.

Of course anything Facebook would do would have to include a bunch of big brand, upscale publishers, but I think its important to realize that even us little guys are looking at loosing a giant portion of readers.Even Marshall Kirkpatrick had this to say about a Facebook News Reader:

“Sure would be great for all the blog publishers of the world to gain access to even more readers on the FB platform!” — Kirkpatrick

Rumproarious RSS Readership

If smaller publishers are anything like my self. We are talking about losing 99% of our readers1. So, the whole spectrum of publishers could benefit from something like a Facebook News Reader that bootstraps off a closing Google Reader.

So, there are clear reasons why Facebook and Publishers would love this, what about consumers?

I have no idea. Facebook has shown that they can make good apps (Messanger) and they can get people to try new apps (Poke), even if they can get people to keep using them. There is no lack of news reading apps so, sure, I do think that if this is as broad reaching as app + web + feeds users could like it.

Sounds good, right? Well…

Look, whatever Facebook is it’s not a platform. This is 100% publishers beware. Letting Facebook hold the keys to your audience doesn’t seem like a great idea, but publishers might not have an option at this point. Consumers might get a nice product, but is this just another countdown to an eventual shutdown?

Whatever it is we will know more on the 20th.

  1. Even since I wrote about this when Google Announced the closure of Google Reader non-Reader feed readers have only increased by 1, or 2%. ↩︎