Social media titan ‘Facebook’ is expanding its ventures, it is no longer about feeling or showing off your latest vacation photos. Today, almost anything and everything is being shared on social network, including sometimes important news and articles. But reading these longer pieces of information isn’t as quick or seamless as reading a status update. From today ‘Facebook’ is introducing its new feature “instant articles” which will offer news organizations the chance to create interactive content that is much simpler and faster to read on ‘Facebook’ via a mobile device.
Instant Articles aim to speed up the loading of news. ‘Facebook’ says that the average article loads for as long as 8 seconds, making it one of the slowest types of content shared on ‘Facebook’. Slower than buffering videos? Well, maybe. I will take Facebook’s word for it. Instant articles will be available from nine publishers starting at 10 a.m. ET: the Times, BuzzFeed, The Atlantic, National Geographic, NBC News, The Guardian, BBC News, and Germany’s Bild and Der Spiegel. For now, you’ll only be able to see them on the iOS version of Facebook’s app; an Android version is still in process. Many instant articles won’t look much different from the links you’re already seeing as you scroll through your feed. But Facebook has created tools to help them stand out, including video “covers” that auto play as you scroll.
A big turning point for media, the app manages this using the same technology ‘Facebook’ has used to get photos and videos to load quickly. It begins pre-loading the story as you approach it in your ‘News Feed’, and is able to show you the top of the story as soon as you tap. On the web, publishers typically lard their pages with dozens of modules for serving advertisements and analytics; one reason instant articles load faster is because they strip most of those out.
‘Facebook’ has developed a platform that allows publishers to add high-resolution images that can be zoomed in a react to tilting of the phone, videos that auto-play as you scroll to them, interactive maps, audio captions and in-line commenting on individual parts of an article. ‘TechCrunch’ reports that the team behind paper took their learning from that US-only app to this new format, although Paper will continue to be offered. Speed is another benefit. Facebook says that while it can take eight seconds to load a Web page from the Facebook app, Instant Articles… well, the clue’s in the name.
In the months leading up to today’s announcement, much has been made of the threat of Facebook bringing publishers onto its native platform, giving up control over their content. For its part, ‘Facebook’ is offering publishers 100 percent of ad revenue from Instant Articles. Recode reports that the articles will allow for a single 300 x 250 banner ad unit. According to Recode, ‘Facebook’ is also offering analytic info that can feed into ‘Google Analytics’ or ‘Adobe Omniture’. Data about performance will be fed to ‘ComScore’ so that publishers don’t lose out in that respect as their Web traffic drops due to people consuming content in-app. As for other publishers not in on the program, who may be worried about whether Instant Articles will impact on people seeing their work in people’s News Feeds, ‘Facebook’ says that its algorithm won’t promote the new format over traditional links.
Facebook’ gets to keep users in its app, seeing articles that load instantly, rather than going off to a website that they may stay on instead of coming back to the warm, blue arms of its own domain. While it’s not gaining financially from ads displayed inside Instant Articles right now, ‘Facebook’ is beginning a relationship with publishers that could change if Instant Articles are a success. And if users love the format and think going off to a website is a second-class experience… well, ‘Facebook’ will have the publishers in a compromised position.
‘Facebook’, like ‘Google’, has always insisted that it is just a technology platform, not a media giant.
With its newsfeed algorithm acting as an editor, that has long been a difficult argument to sustain, and now that it will be hosting news articles on its servers it is harder still.
‘Facebook’ is already richer than any traditional media company – and with that wealth comes ever greater power over how its audience finds out about the news.