Is Facebook working on a social news reader to compete with Flipboard?

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No, Facebook didn’t launch an RSS reader at its mysterious press event last week — but the rumours just keep on coming. The latest stream of whispers to emerge from people knowledgeable with the matter is that the new product focuses primarily on news content… and that it looks a bit like popular social reader Flipboard.

Just days before Google Reader claims its spot in Google’s graveyard (it’s retiring on 1 July), the Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook’s project (simply referred to internally as ‘Reader’) displays content from users and news outlets in a mobile-friendly, highly visual format. Flipboard, which compiles beautiful magazine-like streams from RSS and social feeds, works in a similar way, but the Wall Street Journal says Facebook’s Reader is more focused on news content and a mix of updates from Facebook users, including trending stories that highlight a popular public post.

If this is true, Reader could fit with what Facebook has been focusing on lately — harnessing public conversations and sharing news in real time. It recently added a long-awaited hashtag feature to allow users to mark and discover photos, videos, links and status updates that are part of a wider discussion in real time. When announcing the arrival of hashtags on Facebook, product manager Greg Lindley said that in the future, the team would “be rolling out a series of features that surface some of the interesting discussions people are having about public events, people, and topics.” At the launch of Facebook’s redesigned News Feed in March, Zuckerberg also hinted at his aims to make Facebook the go-to place for news in the future, saying they hope to make the page a “personalised newspaper”.

Facebook hasn’t been shy about copying adapting popular apps and features from its competitors before. From Camera (Instagram), Poke (Snapchat), Messenger (WhatsApp/BlackBerry Messenger) to subscriptions (Google+), places (Foursquare) and hashtags (Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, et al), it does have a history of expanding the number of features available to stay on top of recent trends. Readers like Flipboard and Pulse (recently acquired by LinkedIn) have been gaining popularity recently as people look for a way to manage and keep up to date with the massive amounts of information available online.

The Journal says that Facebook has been working on the project for almost a year, although there is no official confirmation from Facebook or a suggested release date. But if Reader does become more than a rumour, it could offer Facebook the opportunity to make users — especially mobile ones — stay on the platform for longer than it takes to quickly scroll through the latest status updates. The more people use the product, the more opportunity Facebook has to display ads — its major form of income, which brought the social network $1.25-billion in revenue in the first three months of this year.

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