I watched Social WSJ's launch with interest but feel strongly that they've made a number of obvious mistakes with regard to working with Facebook and the nature of how their application works. Over the past three years, I've worked with a number of mainstream news organizations trying to get them to implement effective Facebook integrated solutions. You can read my post-mortem at Nieman Labs as well as results from our grant-funded research. While our news partners have struggled because they fail to link and promote their Facebook-community sites from their main web site, the Wall Street Journal's application strays in common ways that we regularly advise partners against.
Rule #1 is don't try to duplicate your web site content in Facebook. Mainstream news organizations already have great websites - so there simply is no need to try to replicate this experience inside of Facebook. In a sense, all you're doing is giving Facebook space to monetize your content with their ads. Essentially, Social WSJ just tries to present WSJ content inside Facebook's application frame.
Rule #1a is if you do try to duplicate your web site content in Facebook, don't make it ugly and unattractive. I'd argue that Social WSJ is extremely less attractive than the site's existing home page.
Another mistake Social WSJ makes is requiring readers to register up front. The first thing readers see when they visit http://social.wsj.com is the intimidating Facebook permissions popup. NewsCloud-powered sites allow passive reading without registration. So, readers can visit, browse, read and only need to register if they get excited about what they see and want to participate. In our climate change community site with Grist, University of Minnesota researchers concluded that applications that offer a variety of levels for users to get involved do better over time (research pdf). This is called a ladder of engagement which gives readers a chance to engage lightly at first, then more over time.
There's really nothing at Social.WSJ.com that readers can't get at the Wall Street Journal's home page. And, it's certainly not visually appealing enough to make Facebook users deviate from their news feeds to regularly visit.
We evangelize to news organizations that the value of social media is in creating sites that connect the audience to each other in new ways - ways that they often don't have the technical capacity to do with their existing web sites. So, NewsCloud sites are designed to feature community features that allow for user generated content, sharing and discussion - you could call it "moving beyond comments".
NewsCloud Facebook communities let users do things they can't do on existing news sites e.g. crowdsourced idea gathering, discussion forums, blogging, sharing local photo and videos, adding resources to directories of popular restaurants or city guides. We even have a predictions game that lets readers guess at future news events and a lending library that lets them share extra household items with their friends. Furthermore, because we authenticate users with their Facebook accounts, their real identity and accountability make NewsCloud communities more civil than the typical news web site. You can see examples of this in action at our prototype site in Seattle, The Needle, or from our Web site.
We just don't see what Social WSJ accomplishes other than to help Facebook earn revenue from the Wall Street Journal's content - and that's if anyone wants to use it.
Taking advantage of Facebook requires that news organizations think in new ways and provide truly unique and innovative offerings. This often requires embracing the idea that readers will find it exciting to share content and engage in conversation with each other. We think it means hosting a space especially for community - and leveraging social networks like Facebook and Twitter in the ways that are most effective. Often, this just means applying these services for authenticated identity and friend connections. It means that news executives and editors need to be open to the possibility that there are new revenue streams available to those who delve into the world of community. In some ways, it means stepping back into the world of Craigs List and moving beyond pre-social-media text-only town halls.
This is why the Knight Foundation funds NewsCloud to provide these kinds of technology solutions free, open source and easily adoptable for news organizations to take and use to their advantage.
Most importantly, news organizations need to promote their community sites from their web sites and other outreach (e.g. email, TV, radio, marketing). Otherwise, there's no point to investing in these new approaches.
Psst...Rupert, we'd be glad to set your team on a path to social media success... However, if you want to stick with your existing editorial focus of wrecking American society, then you should probably find another software consulting firm to run our open source software.
Update: A reader email asked if NewsCloud has a political bias in its work. Let me clarify. As part of our grant work, NewsCloud's software is available freely as open source software - anyone of any political stripe can download and use it. We also operate a support site at http://support.newscloud.com ... we answer all queries there that we can regardless of who they are from. However, if Rupert Murdoch approached us and wanted to hire us as consultants to help him with NewsCloud, we'd probably encourage him to find another software consultant. The issue isn't right wing or left wing - the issue is the lack of intellectual integrity and commitment to fact inherent in Murdoch-run organizations. I take the practice of journalism quite seriously - and I believe that integrity and honest presentation of facts are hugely important qualities. I would be letting the Knight Foundation down if I began working with organizations that don't practice journalism with commitment to truth telling.