Facebook dropped its new app, Paper, on February 3. The sharply designed app is an amalgam of the Facebook, Twitter, and Flipboard aesthetic.  

It carries over some of the Facebook sensibilities – and presses further the company’s efforts to be the first and primary stop for social sharing and information consumption.

Unlike the standard version of Facebook, which offers a host of capabilities, Paper focuses on news feeds. Gone are the calendars, group pages, games, etc. And introduced are new Facebook-curated topic streams aggregating a finite list of stories from well-known sources.

The friends feed – the original core product point – is reduced to a single channel among several. The result is a well-populated and function-focused app that isn’t very deep to navigate and has an end.

A premium has also been placed on merging beautiful design and usability (navigation hints are peppered along the way, as well). This sort of focus is not something a media Web site can get away with – resources and information are expected to be practically infinite.

Mobile apps, however, blossom with tighter focus and solid design.  

“The experience of actually working with the product is just as important as how it looks,” says Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer in a PC World article.

And Paper’s design, while beautiful, is very much in the service of its functionality and usability. Yahoo’s revamp of its mobile suite has delivered solid design and refocus of the apps’ individual functions.  

Like Paper, a narrowed focus on function and content is integral to Yahoo’s experience. With the company’s most recent release, Digest, Yahoo takes an extreme simplified function focus (and a unique route in engagement). Digest updates twice a day, at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., with a short list of curated and summarised stories.

“News Digest differs sharply from apps like Flipboard, Circa, and Prismatic, which sift through a seemingly infinite number of links and try to help you find ones you would not have seen otherwise,” writes The Verge’s Casey Newton.

The app tracks which stories you’ve read and changes look when you’ve completed the list. Additionally, Yahoo only sends push notifications twice a day, when the new editions are ready.

Simplicity is hard. Building tightly focused apps requires severe clarity of two obvious questions on the point of the product.

  1. What business objectives it is created to meet.

  2. How its functions and design meet reader needs in advancing those objectives.  

Paper and Digest are two great examples of this clarity. The apps bundle a lot of thought and complexity into delivering “simple” products. This is the sort of thinking we should put into all our applications.