The drop in users, as The Washington Post's Engagement Manager pointed out in a tweet last night, has to do more with Facebook than with user discontent.
During that time, Facebook changed its social reader module from a clickier version to something more subdued, as detailed in Constine's TechCrunch post. The new version only shows one article at a time, rather than a list, and omits Facebook friend photos, which humanized the links. Scrolling through the feed, the new box looks more like an ad than an friend's endorsement for a news article. This change aligns with the "full-on collapse" Herrman discovered. To be fair, Herrman suspected that maybe this might have something to do with the drop. "It's not clear if this is a pure shift in user opinion or the result of new feed management and site behavior on Facebook's part, but this is a full-on collapse," he wrote. But he still reached that same conclusion. "Social Readers always seemed a little too share-y," begins his diatribe against the idea.
Constine points out why exactly that logic doesn't follow:
If it was really user discontent with frictionless sharing of reading activities that was causing a decline, it wouldn’t have happened so quickly and distinctly. Different users starting to use the apps at different times would follow their own curves of discontent. They wouldn’t all flee at once. The decline would have also hit other types of auto-sharing apps. It hasn’t. In fact, non-news reader auto-publishing apps that have the same authorization flow have been doing very well. Few signs of serious discontent there.
The fact is that Facebook controls the news feed like an editor-in-chief controls a newspaper’s front page. It decides what kinds of content its users see.
To Herrman, that somehow translate into the following headline: "How Backlash Is Fixing Facebook Social Readers." It's still not clear if user outrage had anything to do with this change, as Herrman concedes for one sentence, not before explaining that he still thinks it's because everyone hates social reader. "Whether the decline was caused by Facebook, by the common growth-peak-decline pattern of Open Graph apps or by plain old user disenchantment is tough to quantify," he writes. Constine, who has a more cheery view of the situation, thinks Facebook updated the module to drive better quality journalism, rather than sensationalist headlines. The old module did not show a photo for a given story so, he posits, it may have pushed people to jazzier headlines. "Facebook will continue testing new formats in search of one that sends lots of referral traffic, but to high-quality articles. News reader developers should hold tight, talk to their Facebook reps about how changes are hurting user counts, and hope an optimal version of 'recently read articles' emerges soon," he writes.