Facebook: Social Reader Usage May Be Down, But Engagement Is Up
The media, forever a navel-gazing industry, worked itself into a fever earlier this week after evidence emerged that usage of Facebook’s social reader apps is declining.
In an article designed to further dramatize The Washington Post‘s recent tension between its editorial and financial divisions, Jeff Bercovici at Forbes pulled up a chart from AppData illustrating a falloff in the number of monthly average users of the Washington Post Social Reader app.
John Hermann at Buzzfeed quickly pointed out that usage of social reader apps was down for many news publications, not just The Washington Post.
Why the dropoff? Herrman blames the apps themselves, which he calls annoying. He writes:
“Social Readers always seemed a little too share-y, even for Facebook; they felt more like the kind of cold, descriptive, invisible and yet mandatory services we’re used to seeing from Google rather than genuinely new and useful tools for spreading information. And they feel, I don’t know, kind of broken right now? My brain already associates those little blocks of auto-fed stories with second-class content. I mean, I know my friends didn’t really mean to show to it to me. Why would I click? And god, why would I sign up for the thing that seems to have tricked its way into my timeline? It’s an app that broadcasts Internet illiteracy for everyone to see.”
I see his point — but Facebook doesn’t. A spokesperson tells me that although the number of people using social reader apps has fallen at some publications, engagement levels are up as the company introduces new tools and adjusts its algorithms to display more relevant content to users.
“We’re trying to get the right content in front of people, to up the signal to noise ratio,” the spokesperson explained.
The Facebook representative added that although some apps have seen “short-term traffic swings,” which is typical in the ongoing development of any online product, Facebook is committed to the long-term evolution of these apps “to create a good social news experience.”
User numbers are also up for The Huffington Post‘s, MTV’s and ESPN’s apps, the spokesperson noted.
Social reader apps were first introduced in September. Through the apps, which are built on Facebook’s Open Graph, publications like The Washington Post and The Guardian are able to serve users a mix of content based on the information they’ve shared with Facebook, including their interests, “likes” and stories that are trending among their friends. Those stories are displayed in the apps and make frequent appearances in the Newsfeed.
The numbers may be up for debate, but there was some surprising consensus among media critics — like Herrman, above — about the poor user experience offered by social reader apps. We’re curious: Do you use any of these apps? What do you like or dislike about them?