f8 Conference begins, the Wall Street Journal has launched a Facebook app called WSJ Social. According to the most credible chatter, Facebook plans to unveil a media-focused redesign at the upcoming developers' conference, which bears the slogan "Read, Watch, Listen" - a fairly obvious clue. The WSJ has decided to preempt that launch.Today, a mere 48 hours before Facebook's
The app presents a grid of WSJ stories, though some of the slots are occupied by ads. In the left sidebar, users can subscribe to "editors" - who can be WSJ staff or other Facebook members using the app - to customize the story feed. Currently, the stories can be viewed in full for free from within the app. The New York Observer's Anna Sanders - who was cool enough to be invited to the WSJ Social launch party - reports that the app will go behind a paywall after the first month, despite the fact that it is (heavily) ad-supported.
Every User Is An Editor
The feature set actually makes for a compelling social news app. It puts WSJ staff and everyday users on the same level, and users curate the curators in addition to liking and sharing stories. The format of the story grid and the articles works well on a tablet.
It's not what I would call a terrible interface, but it is a Facebook app. It does have a fixed frame of Facebook ads alongside it that periodically refreshes its wares. It also displays threaded Facebook comments on the right side of the article window, taking up almost half the frame. It's a distracting presentation, but at least the comments are relevant.
One troubling feature, common to many Facebook apps, is that WSJ Social demands that you turn off secure browsing before you continue. Upon your next login to Facebook, your secure connection is restored.
Can Paywalled Content Be Social?
The obvious question raised by WSJ Social is whether the "social" moniker can honestly apply to a paywalled app. Sure, when the paywall goes up, Wall Street Journal subscribers will be able to share stories with each other, but they won't be able to share with anyone else. The New York Times paywall allows anyone in through links shared on social networks, but that's not how the WSJ works (Disclosure: ReadWriteWeb is a syndication partner of the New York Times).
It's worth noting that Facebook announced an upcoming program for select news partners called Facebook Editions in July. It hasn't yet launched, but the reports in July suggested a September timeframe. The WSJ is conspicuously absent from the partners who were named. The Daily, another News Corp. publication, is on the list. Alisa Bowen, general manager of the WSJ Digital Network, told Forbes that this app was developed independently of the Facebook Editions projects. "This is totally a Wall Street Journal initiative," she says.
What do you think? Would you subscribe?