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Did Facebook Cause the Social Reader Decline? Did Users? Does it Matter?




Making the top ten list is a good thing except when when it’s the top ten list of losers. The Washington Post and The Guardian social reader apps both took a big hit this week and many are wondering if it’s a sign of things to come.

The numbers come from AppData, a website that monitors the health of Facebook and iOS apps. They caused a stir this week when they reported a 46% drop in monthly usage for The Washington Post and a 43% drop for The Guardian. Immediately, tech outlets jumped in with explanations for this horrendous turn around.

 BuzzFeed suggested that the collapse was due to the haters finally getting their way.

“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.”

Points for style on that one.

The Atlantic Wire counters with a story titled: Facebook Social Reader Stinks Less Than Previously Thought.

Mashable counters with reader usage is down but engagement is up!

And Chicken Little chimed in to say, “the sky is falling.”

What is it about Facebook that inspires such passion in reporters? You know I’m not a huge fan but I’ll still give out FB credits where they’re due and in this, I think Facebook is getting the short shrift. When they added the social reader apps, it seemed like a great way to help failing newspapers get more exposure. And hey, adding world news to your Facebook page is a nice way to class up the joint, you know what I mean?

Unfortunately, as with all things Facebook, there were permission issues and space issues and who wants what on top issues and so they began to tweak. I swear that’s 90% of what they do over there is tweak things. It was on top, now it’s on the bottom. Left to right, most important before less important as decided by a complex algorithm based on the position of the stars and your blood type.

The hard truth is, no company can live by Facebook alone (unless you’re Zynga). Traffic from Facebook has to be a bonus on top of what you bring in on your own. Some days it will be great and other days it won’t be. Social Readers aren’t newspaper subscriptions, they’re advertisements. The hope is that a reader will like the content enough to become a regular reader of the publication. That’s where the money is, not in Facebook shares.

Here’s another truth. If you really want to know what’s going on in the world, shut Facebook down for an hour. You’ll be surprised by what else is out there.