Report: Facebook building Flipboard-inspired mobile news reader app

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Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is quietly working on a mobile news reader application that curates content from the social network's users and digital content providers in a magazine-style visual format optimized for smartphones and tablets, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Citing sources with knowledge of Facebook's efforts, the report states the project--internally called Reader--has been in the pipeline for more than a year, adding that recent iterations of the app closely resemble Flipboard, a free social magazine application for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android that brings together stories, photos and videos from across multiple content platforms and social networks. Flipboard boasts more than 50 million users worldwide.

Facebook engineers are focusing their Reader efforts on iOS, building an app that leverages design elements of the company's iPhone and iPad tablet. One insider said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is paying close attention to the Reader project, providing input and reviewing the design at various junctures: Contrary to Facebook's "Move fast and break things" mantra, Reader development has been comparatively slow and deliberate, with engineers exploring different methods for highlighting news content, including showing public posts that are trending on the platform.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment.

A source told The Wall Street Journal that Reader is intended to encourage mobile device users to engage with Facebook on a deeper, more meaningful level, in turn viewing more advertisements. Facebook's total mobile monthly active users eclipsed desktop users earlier this year and reached 751 million in the first quarter of 2013, a year-over-year increase off 54 percent. Its mobile-only MAUs also increased to 189 million, up from 157 million in the previous quarter. First-quarter advertising revenues reached $1.25 billion, with mobile generating 30 percent of that total, up from 23 percent in the previous quarter.

The Reader initiative also underscores Facebook's ongoing efforts to transition its platform away from social interactions into a hub for all their interests. Earlier this month, Facebook launched hashtag support, enabling users to find public conversations based on keywords marked by the "#" sign. This spring, Facebook also unveiled a revamped News Feed design that unifies how content appears to users on the Web and on mobile: "What we're trying to do is give everyone in the world the best possible newspaper we can," Zuckerberg said at that time.

News reader applications like Flipboard have become increasingly popular in recent years. In April, professional networking platform LinkedIn acquired mobile news app Pulse from Alphonso Labs for a reported $90 million. Pulse counts more than 30 million users across its iOS, Android and HTML5 apps in more than 190 countries.

"The opportunity to own the place where people go for long-form reading is a very large opportunity, especially for advertising," Josh Elman, a venture capitalist at Greylock Partners who previously worked on products for Facebook and Twitter, told The Wall Street Journal.

For more:
- read this Wall Street Journal article (sub. req.)

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