HuffPo Goes All-In with Facebook Sharing

As publishers debate how far to go with Facebook integration, The Huffington Post is pushing ahead with an ambitious integration that will automatically share with users’ friends the stories they read via an app on Facebook — without ever visiting HuffPo’s site.

The new HuffPo Facebook app, which will go live on Monday, follows in the footsteps of efforts made by publishers like The Washington Post and The Guardian. Once users install the app, the HuffPo content they consume on Facebook is automatically fed to their friends. The new app will house the entirety of HuffPo’s content at a given moment. However, instead of presenting users with the classic HuffPo homepage headlines and sectional navigation, the HuffPo app showcases front and center what a user’s friends have read, as well as what stories a user is likely to be interested in based on their preferences.

“It’s sort of a focused social experience, with you and your friends reading together an article you have shared,” said Tim Dierks, HuffPo’s svp of engineering and media technologies. “It’s a collaborative, exploratory experience with a shared context. We’re hoping to create those digital water-cooler moments. We think it’s a great step forward for us. But it’s not an attempt to offer total complete 150 percent of HuffPo’s content.”

Still, it’s that approach that has scared off several big publishers, leery of losing too much traffic to Facebook while ceding control of their own site experience.

“I’m not concerned about that,” said Dierks. “This is about better solutions for people. We think it represents success for everybody. We’re not in opposition with Facebook on this at all.”
It’s unclear how these better solutions for people will be better for HuffPo’s (and parent AOL’s) bottom line. The Facebook app, at least initially, won’t carry any advertising, and Dierks declined to discuss any future plans around that. Per sources, no dollars have changed hands in this arrangement between Facebook and HuffPo.
It is also apparent that the nature of sharing is changing from an explicit option to an implicit one. With a blanket approval, users share all their activity. That’s different from how Facebook has operated in the past, with users approving each share individually.
There’s a growing outpouring of criticism among the digerati over the way that Facebook’s new content-sharing platform is clogging up News Feeds with useless notifications of what people are reading or listening to. It led CNET to declare that Facebook is “ruining” sharing. Facebook, which is no stranger to early criticism of changes it makes to its site, is clearly intent to ride this out, betting that the benefits of knowing what people are doing outweigh the enough-already reflex.
Plus, Facebook claims that Open Graph for publishers is off to a smashing start. For example, in less than two months, over 2 million people have connected their Yahoo News experience to Facebook, resulting in twice as many referrals from Facebook. According to Facebook, Yahoo News has seen its Facebook audience consume more articles than the average users, while also helping lower its demographic. Similarly, over a million people have downloaded the Guardian’s Facebook app in its first month. However, at the same time, both Yahoo News and The Independent have looked to build in more privacy controls since the Open Graph launched.
So why aren’t more publishers on board? “Because it hasn’t launched yet,” said a Facebook spokesperson. “We’re working with a handful of publishers to make the experience great, but it is not widely available yet.” However, Digiday spoke with a number of publishers who said they are either considering launching Facebook-powered apps or have initially passed for the time being.
For his part, HuffPo’s Dierks isn’t concerned about oversharing complaints. In the end, Facebook’s engineers will figure out what’s important to surface in the feed. “I don’t know about clogging up News Feed,” he said. “Facebook has a lot more of these things to share [than it used to]. The company has already had to solve some challenges in how to curate [it all]. They are looking to make sure they show people things they are interested in. It’s a little bit of tuning that is going on. They’ve managed to do some tweaks with Spotify pretty quickly.”
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