WSJ Social: The Next Step in Social News?

Sep 29, 2011


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Article ImageLast week The Wall Street Journal announced the beta launch of WSJ Social, a news app for Facebook that allows users to read, share, and comment on articles from the Journal within the social media environment. The content offered through WSJ Social includes articles and blogs from WSJ.com, such as breaking news, columns, analysis and opinion. All of the content is available for free for the first month. This is news mostly because the WSJ has long been one of the publications best known for successfully charging subscribers for online content.

"We're breaking the mold of using Facebook simply to drive traffic to our websites and are now creating an opportunity to engage with the Journal directly on the Facebook platform," Alisa Bowen, general manager of The Wall Street Journal Digital Network, says in a press release. "WSJ Social creates a more integrated experience for users and innovative opportunities for advertisers."

A fan of the new tool is Ken Doctor, a news industry analyst at Outsell, and author of Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get. He says the app is a "next step evolution" in understanding how digital news reading is "very different" from old-fashioned newspaper reading.

"It represents a maturation in understanding the web landscape overall," Doctor says.

In particular, he is a fan of the social curation aspect of the new app. WSJ Social users can become "editors" and share stories, which then surface for others within their WSJ Social network. Users can also add to their "editor" list by selecting those who curate content of most relevance and interest to them. The "editors" that garner the greatest following are recognized on a leaderboard in the app.

Also, all Journal content shared, or "liked," by a WSJ Social user within the app will be pushed to their main Facebook profile newsfeed.

"In the future, I think most of the news we all take in will be socially curated," Doctor says. He adds that, if a company can use "digital means to take what humans have long prized, which is word of mouth," and do it in such a way that is practical and economically feasible, well, why not?

"We just haven't had any ways to say, ‘yeah bring me my news, but use this circle of people to bring me stories I might not otherwise find,'" Doctor says.

Following the one-month introductory period, WSJ Social content will be a mix of free and subscriber-only content. The app itself will remain free to add, but full access to all content will be available via the Journal's Digital Bundle subscription -- which includes access to WSJ.com as well as Journal apps for smartphones and tablets.

While the idea of having material on Facebook that isn't freely available is somewhat unusual, Doctor thinks it is a good thing -- both for Wall Street Journal subscribers and for the newspaper itself.

The same people who subscribe to the Journal's Digital Bundle package "also hang out on Facebook," Doctor says. "If they can get their Wall Street Journal on Facebook, that Wall Street Journal subscription has more value to them. This makes it possible for Wall Street Journal to raise their subscription fees over time."

But it's also important to have some of the content on WSJ Social freely available, Doctor says.

If non-subscribers like the free content they see on the app, "they're more likely to become a Wall Street Journal subscriber themselves," he says.

"Sampling is very important; that's what this does," Doctor adds. "It's supermarket sampling times a million."

Doctor is a fan of the app idea, and believes in the future we'll "see other iterations of it." Basically, it's an idea whose time has come -- and he feels the people at the newspaper recognize this. "We've got people at the Wall Street Journal who understand the social web" and also "understand how to leverage the social web," Doctor says. Plus, he adds, "Facebook itself has matured; it's much more media-oriented. So you've got a couple of things coming together here."