How to Lose an Audience and Alienate Readers

When I glimpse at the homepage on Facebook, which is currently closed on my browser while I have Reuters, the Tribune and the New York Times open, I tend to see a lot of news-related links that are posted. People tend to use Facebook to share interesting articles, whether it’s an article that prompts a comment about Rick Santorum (or any politician for that matter) being a douche, other news to be outraged by, stories to be lift the spirit or articles from The Onion that people think are true. On my own Facebook page I share interesting news articles I’ve found around the internet and things I’ve written for Gapers Block.

Since the launch of the Facebook redesign that upset millions of people, a user has been able to see articles people have been reading that tend to be from the Washington Post or The Guardian—this tends to be the case with the people I’m friends with. If you click on the link, you’ll see that you need to install an app in order to read the article. This way, you can read an article from the Washington Post on Facebook without going to the Post‘s website.

When the app, Washington Post Social Reader, was released, I installed it after the prompt and thought I would see how it works. About two weeks later I uninstalled the app because I never used it. I was able to find more articles on the Washington Post‘s website, which is fine by me since I’ve had an account for their website since my senior year of high school.

The app doesn’t have the Post as its sole content provider. There are also articles from Reuters, Associated Press, Slate and The A.V. Club, among others. The problem with this for me is that I gather my news in a different way than most Americans. The Reuters website is one of the sites I read at 6:30 a.m. while drinking a cup of tea and getting ready to go to work. If there’s an interesting article from any of the aforementioned sites, I will copy the link, paste it into the status box on Facebook and post a link. With this, people who are my friends on Facebook can click the link and read the article to see what I’m talking about.

An app like the Washington Post Social Reader functions as a tease. You look on Facebook, see an interesting headline, click and see that you have to install the app in order to read the article. Meanwhile, you could go to the Washington Post‘s website, find that same article and read it without needing to install an app. This user experience is similar to when The New Republic posts a link on Twitter to an article that sounds really interesting. After clicking on the link, you then find out you need to be a subscriber in order to read it. Requiring people to use an app to read articles is no different from not letting readers know they need a subscription to read an article or requiring people to have a free account on a website in order to read an article.

It’s easy to see what the idea might have been behind the Washington Post Digital Reader. People can get news their news from a site they already spend lots of time on and share articles with their friends. But when you require people to install an app to read an article, it’s ultimately easier to copy a link, paste it into a box on Facebook and hit post. The perk of that is that option is no one has to shake a fist at the computer screen.