How Facebook’s Open Graph could mold the news business

facebook paper boyThe Facebook Open Graph has yet to fully launch and already we’re witnessing its effects. Last month, we revealed that there were a few early winners emerging, chief among them being Spotify. But music sites haven’t been the only application to profit from Facebook’s new sharing tool, and news is also getting a significant boost.

“Media companies have long been early adopters of Facebook Platform tools, including the Like button, Facebook Login, Comments Box, and most recently the Open Graph, to drive traffic to their sites, engage readers and attract new audiences,” says Facebook. “The early results from social news partners are encouraging, once again showing that news sites that focus on building social and personalized news experiences will see the most dramatic increases in traffic and engagement.”

The brief glimpse at early results offered by Facebook have proven one thing: the Open Graph is engaging more—and younger—readers when it comes to news.

A recent study from the University of Missouri also says that news consumption is becoming increasingly serendipity driven. Readers simply happening upon a news story rather than seeking it out is becoming more common, and what better place to happen upon something than on Facebook?

The research shows “that Internet users often do not make the conscious decision to read news online, but they come across news when they are searching for other information or doing non-news related activity online, such as shopping or visiting social networking sites.” Facebook is likely both a cause and an effect of these developed habits, but either way more and more eyes are making it to news stories.

“Incidental exposure to online news is becoming a major way for many people to receive information about news events,” says Borchuluun Yadamsuren, a post-doctoral fellow involved in the study. “However, many people don’t realize how their news reading behavior is shifting to more serendipitous discovery.”

But at what cost? The study also revealed that many readers were attracted to certain types of news, which were labeled “unusual,” “weird,” “interesting,” “bizarre,” “unexpected,” “outrageous,” or “off the wall.” It’s also been observed that the Open Graph hasn’t been a useful tool for circulating breaking news, something Twitter still does incredibly well.  Photo stories, as well as commentary and opinion pieces, have also been popular.

washington post pitbullWhat the Open Graph does is give what are already popular stories even more exposure; it makes the shareable more shareable. That’s reason for news sites to celebrate, but the industry as a whole will have to reflect on what exactly is happening here: salacious, attention-getting stories will (generally) continue to get attention while more analytical or breaking news will have to compete for eyes.

So let’s examine the worse-case scenario. There’s a fear that online news sources will write for the traffic, for SEO-only, for what gets the most hits. How and what news is being consumed via the Open Graph could reinforce that. Or at least that’s an understandable concern: the sites will begin to write stories that are getting them traffic on Facebook.

appdataOne outlet that probably doesn’t care either way is Yahoo. The company has had some very public struggles as of late and is attempting to re-identify its focus. Luckily for Yahoo, the Facebook Open Graph has been helpful. “More than ten million people have chosen to turn on the new social news experience [from Yahoo News] to share and discover news from friends,” says Facebook. “Yahoo News has seen a 600% increase in traffic coming from Facebook, and people who connect to Facebook on Yahoo read more articles than the average user.” AppData shows that the apps traffic has soared in the last month. 

Online news has both suffered and succeeded at the hands of the Internet and social networking, and the Open Graph is not just a big step for Facebook and individual applications, but the news industry as a whole. 

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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