It’s natural to compare Facebook’s flagship app and Paper, but I don’t see them as competitors. The flagship app is designed for a broad audience, and Paper is designed for a narrow one.
I took a backstage tour at Disney World a few years back, and something our guide said really stuck with me, “We try to tailor our experience to every type of person who comes to our parks.” On the surface it sounds simple, but think about how hard that is. People are so different from each other. They have different beliefs, tolerances, desires, expectations, etc. How do you design a single experience tailored to each of them? Maybe this is why we are seeing a big trend in the unbundling of apps. Once you gain a certain number of users, it becomes too difficult to keep them happy with a single experience. Hence, smaller focused apps aimed at making specific types of people happy.
This may sound obvious, but Facebook has a lot of users from all over the world. Can they design a single experience for a billion people and have them all be happy with it?
At this point you may be saying, “Yea yea, Shawn, but didn’t you see the numbers that Paper users only use it for x seconds per day/week/month?” Yes but I don’t care about that metric because it doesn’t tell me anything. It doesn’t tell me if the person is happy, frustrated, busy, excited, or whatever other infinite senarios I could write. Metrics are good, but they tell you very little. As a designer, I would rather have a happy user that spends 10 seconds than a frustrated user that spends 10 minutes.
I don’t know what the future of Paper will be. Maybe Facebook will kill it if it doesn’t reach a certain number of users, or maybe they will continue making these small focused apps for a narrow audience. In the meantime, I’m enjoying Paper. It’s making me a happier Facebook user, even if it’s only for a few minutes a week.