Is Facebook the next frontier for online news?

Further empowering its users to grow its application ecosystem, Facebook recently announced the launch of the $10 million fbFund. Backed by outside investors, fbFund will grant $25,000 to $250,000 to selected individuals or start-ups building applications for the Facebook platform.

A number of news organizations have already created Facebook applications to distribute their news content. The New York Times’ News Quiz application, which measures your daily news knowledge against your friends’, is installed on over 6,000 users’ pages and generates about 17,000 page views a week, according to‘s Senior Vice President and General Manager Vivian Schiller.

“This particular news quiz is part of a larger strategy to distribute content as widely as possible. There are different ways to engender loyalty and increase page views on the Web. It’s increasingly important to distribute content in parts and pieces, widgets and RSS feeds – wherever people want to consume it,” said Schiller.

Indie start-ups are getting into the game, too. An app called “News Headlines,” authored by UK start-up RSS2Facebook, pulls in the RSS feeds of hundreds of global news providers and displays them in a single box. From there, news stories can be bookmarked or shared with friends.

RSS2Facebook specializes in adapting the programming behind “News Headlines” for organizations which want to convert their existing RSS feeds into Facebook applications – a quick and dirty way to leverage Facebook’s immense social reach.

OJR chatted with RSS2Facebook founder (and Southampton University student) Adam Cooke via MSN Messenger to learn more.

OJR: How did you come up with the idea for RSS2Facebook, and when was it launched?

Cooke: I had been creating some applications for small businesses, and a common request was to give individual RSS feeds a stand-alone application on Facebook. It didn’t have a launch date as such. I just found myself reusing the same code over and over for different people. So I decided to package it up with a helpful manual. The idea is that the content of your RSS feed is promoting your website. If you believe in your own content, then your application will spread quickly over the Facebook social graph – the mushroom cloud effect, if you will.

So instead of having the RSS feed as a sort of output, it becomes a promotional tool. It spreads the word to the users’ friends. As friends are normally interested in the same things this can be seen as a form of extremely cheap, targeted advertising.

OJR: How fast is “News Headlines” growing?

Cooke: Over 1,500 users have the app installed. I have actually had no need to promote it. It’s amazing really. There is no opportunity for big business advertising on Facebook unless they are actually offering a service to the user. This makes it a very level playing field for small business vs. big business, because for the first time it’s the content that decides, not the promotional budget.

OJR: What kind of interested have you gotten in RSS2Facebook’s services?

Cooke: I’ve gotten loads. Small sites and news feed types. I have done some custom application builds for larger sites, like the online job agency for students, Graduate Prospects. It lets you watch job feeds from the agency in your profile. Very useful if you’re a student just coming out of university.

OJR: Have you made any money yet?

Cooke: In the four figures – put it that way. Hopefully five very soon.

OJR: How did you hear about the fbFund?

Cooke: I actually heard it through a developer IRC channel but didn’t get any details until I watched a piece about it on the local news. Well, it looks really good. Free money I guess. LOL. I would definitely apply.

OJR: If you got a grant to work on RSS2Facebook full time, where would you take it?

Cooke: I am currently working on an RSS2Facebook multifeed. I have some other ideas.

OJR: What are some of the other ideas?

Cooke: Well, if I told you, then I would be giving away my advantage, wouldn’t I? They are along the same lines as what I have now on RSS2Facebook. Some ideas involve the integration of well-known open source software with Facebook. It’s a very competitive industry. If this were a regulated industry, you would not be getting away with some of the copycat applications out on Facebook right now.

But to be honest, I like it how it is. It’s open, and the best application wins – which is ultimately what Facebook wants.

About Jean Yung

Hi there, I am a Master's student in Print Journalism at USC Annenberg.

After seven sublimely bone-chilling, atom-stopping years in Chicago (as an undergrad at the University of Chicago and a business consultant for Deloitte), I can truly appreciate LA's tedious sunshine!