Facebook introduced Save last week, their own version of a “read it later” service that allows people to save interesting stories for reading at a later time. The idea being that while they’re scanning Facebook they may see something that looks interesting but they don’t have time right then to click through to the story or to fully digest it, so they need to save it for later, when they presumably have more time. This puts them in competition with existing services like Pocket, Instapaper and a handful of others.
When I first read about the service it struck me as a solution in need of a problem. That’s largely because of not only how I see people using Facebook, which is in large chunks of time so they can sufficiently scan their Newsfeed, but also in how Facebook has spent so many calories recently positioning itself as part of the ongoing, current conversation. They want to be the place where people are talking about what’s on TV, what events are happening and so on, so anything that is geared toward time-shifting seems inconsistent and a bit odd.
Going back to the first point, “save for later” functionality has in my experience always been something that’s been sought by the power-user set and not necessarily by the mass audience, who just want to go online to check email and check for updates from friends, family and the brands who they’re hoping share coupons with them. That’s part of the reason why RSS, which by its very nature was all about time-shifted viewing and saving deep reading for a later time, never caught on, because the desire to do so just wasn’t there in a mass audience. They didn’t need to do that because they had their bookmarked pages and were fine with that workflow. And it’s part of the reason why the average web user hasn’t even heard of Pocket et al, because that’s not how they’re consuming content online.
So it’s not clear who Facebook Save is really meant for. And the best guess I can make is that it’s intended to be something that brand publishers are supposed to applaud because it dangles the possibility that while someone may not click through to a story now, they may do so later.
But metrics for Facebook Save were not part of the announcement and it’s unclear as to whether this is something that will be introduced or added on down the road. Without it, though, it will be difficult for publishers to truly measure how and to what extent people are using this tool.
Facebook Save is, though, not unique in this manner. To the best of my knowledge none of the big save-for-later apps offer any sort of metrics for publishers. And those numbers are absolutely necessary for publishers in the same way that “day plus seven” ratings numbers have increasingly become necessary for TV networks. Let’s walk through why:
I, as a brand publisher, post X story on Facebook today. And I can see in my site analytics that views to that page/post spiked in the period immediately following that, knowing that links on Facebook (or Twitter or anywhere else) have a very short half-life. There may be a few moderate bumps down the road but generally after a certain period of time you’re going to see those numbers flat-line.
But now factor in save-for-later functionality, whether it’s within the Facebook framework or in something like Pocket, which integrates with Feedly, Digg Reader, Twitter’s mobile app and more. If I, as publisher, can start to attribute traffic to those apps then I have that much more complete a picture of my readers. And it’s not just that, since apps like Pocket allow for reading completely within the app, without sending any traffic to the source site. So if these apps were to work with publishers to show how many people were saving stories from their domains, how many articles they were saving, where they save the article from (Twitter, RSS, Facebook etc), how long they saved the story before they read it and so on, then all of a sudden publishers are swimming in additional reader data that can help drive strategy on a number of levels.
It also opens up a world of possibilities for the apps themselves, as well as their business models specifically. Imagine if apps were able to sell ads to publishers that looked like recommended reads, giving readers the option to either save it for later reading or to go ahead and visit the site directly. There’s value in both options.
There’s also this from Om Malik:
I think annotations and messaging are two premium features our pals from @Pocket should think about implementing.
— Om Malik (@om) July 23, 2014
Those are great ideas that would, yes, require some development work. But honestly a network that’s based on similar reading habits is of much more use to me than some other social networks. It’s basically what Google Reader Shared Items was before it was so brutally ignored and killed. It’s easy to see scenarios where I say “Ooo…X Friend would like this story, I’ll message it to them” within the Pocket – or other app – framework.
On an even more basic level, these apps need to more fully embrace a variety of networks. For instance, it would be nice to be able to choose LinkedIn, Flipboard or other networks to share a story from Pocket instead of just Twitter or Facebook. (Note that I don’t use Buffer, which is an option within Pocket. Not because I don’t want to, I’ve just never taken the time to set something like this up and it’s for an even thinner slice of the audience than users of save-for-later apps.)
Better metrics and data would serve the save-for-later market well. Since Facebook is now treading into these waters in a serious (even if it might be a drastic misreading of their audience) manner it’s a good time for the existing players to start mining new areas to prove their value to readers and publishers, both important stakeholders in how the tools they produce get used.