Thursday, July 26, 2007

Facebook: Ripe for News Applications?

The Web is evolving to become less and less about getting people to visit your site, and more about being where your communities are online. Given that, forward-thinking news organizations are experimenting with various ways to distribute their content online -- including popular social media and networking services such as Facebook ( .

According to recent statistics ( , Facebook now has over 31 million members and is the sixth most-trafficked site in the U.S. Although it started as a service for college students, now anyone can join. Facebook says: "More than half of Facebook users are outside of college. The fastest growing demographic is those 25 years old and older."

On May 24 Facebook launched Facebook Platform ( ) , a site that supports Web developers' efforts to create third-party applications for Facebook members. Now there are hundreds of Facebook applications ( , with more introduced daily. While the applications directory doesn't yet have a "news" category, there are many news applications listed ( )  there -- mostly sports news.

Tidbits contributor  Matthew Buckland  recently told me that his paper, South Africa's Mail & Guardian, recently debuted its own news headlines application (  for Facebook.

Why bother with Facebook? Buckland explained, "We did this so we could win over new readers and provide a regular stream of news to our current readers." He also noted that South Africa is the sixth biggest country on Facebook by membership, after the U.S., Canada, States, Australia and the U.K. The M&G also has its own Facebook group ( ) .

Fellow Tidbits contributor  Steve Outing  (  observed: "I've heard  Rob Curley  [Vice President of Product Development for Washingtonpost Newsweek Interactive] say that in developing their Facebook application, The Compass ( ) , his team didn't think it made sense to have a headline widget for Facebook; they wanted to do something that Facebook's younger crowd might be more likely to use. But I think that Facebook is evolving rather quickly away from its younger skew. I'm getting lots of Facebook friend requests from colleagues who are old fogies like me, so I think that Rob's observation may be becoming quickly outdated.

"I'm not sure that a headline feed widget is the first thing I'd do for Facebook if I were at a newspaper, but it may make sense now that Facebook's [member demographics are] changing."

To which Buckland responded, "I agree news headlines probably isn't the most ideal approach. We are working on more Facebook offerings. But I think news headlines hits the spot where there are readers loyal to certain media brands, and people who either don't understand RSS feeds or can't be bothered with using them. Some may think its handy having their news when they check their Facebook profile. Also, news is our core offering -- so if we were to do something on Facebook, logically that is what we would do that first.

"I agree with Steve: We can't assume the demographic of Facebook is all young and will stay young. Also, at the risk of being shot down, I also don't believe that all young people dislike news."

credit : poytner

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