And so it begins. After months of rumor and a little bit of chatter from the company itself, Facebook finally announced Instant Articles, its initiative to get publishers to let Facebook host content. The company bills it as "a fast and interactive experience for reading articles in News Feed" and "a tool for publishers to create fast, interactive articles on Facebook" while giving them "control over their stories, brand experience and monetization opportunities."
Should publishers take the plunge and get involved with Instant Articles? Tell us what you think.
"Web articles in the Facebook app take an average of eight seconds to load, by far the slowest single content type on Facebook," says product manager Michael Reckhow. "Using the same technology that loads photos and videos quickly in our mobile app, Instant Articles load as much as ten times faster than standard mobile web articles, so you get to the stories you want to read instantly. Once there, new features like tilt-to-pan photos, auto-play video, embedded audio captions, and interactive maps let you explore the story in beautiful new ways."
Publishers can sell ads in their articles and keep the revenue or elect to use Facebook's Audience Network to monetize unsold inventory. They'll also have the ability to track data and traffic through comScore and other analytics tools.
“Fundamentally, this is a tool that enables publishers to provide a better experience for their readers on Facebook” said Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox. “Instant Articles lets them deliver fast, interactive articles while maintaining control of their content and business models.”
The company is launching Instant Articles with 9 partners, including: The New York Times, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, NBC, The Atlantic, The Guardian, BBC News, Spiegel and Bild. For now, Instant Articles will only appear on Facebook's iPhone app with a special set of articles published by these partners, but Facebook says it will continue to develop the product with partners over the coming months. If you're a publisher and wish to get involved, you can contact Facebook about doing so here.
In an FAQ document, Facebook makes it clear that Instant Articles will not be required for publishers on Facebook going forward and that those who choose to use it still control how much they publish to Facebook. Standard article links will remain accessible from Facebook for publishers who don't wish to participate. The company says it expects users to appreciate the enhancements and that publishers will see greater engagement as a result.
Publishers don't need to create original content for Facebook. Instant Articles is simply an optimized way to distribute content on Facebook. One can only imagine that Facebook will give these stories special treatment when it comes time for ranking content for News Feed delivery, similar to what it's doing with its hosted video content (it's actively advising pages against posting videos from other sites).
Instant Articles supports automated content syndication via HTML and RSS, so once publishers get involved, the work on their end should really be minimal. Content published on Instant Articles will also be published on the publisher's own website.
"It's a straightforward process for publishers to publish their articles in the Instant Articles format because it uses HTML and RSS, standard ways for authoring articles on the web," the FAQ explains. "Facebook translates articles authored for the web in HTML into the Instant Articles format. We also provide tools for publishers to preview articles prior to publication and make sure they display as they intended. Publishers who wish to embrace new elements like interactive maps and auto-play videos can use simple, well-documented HTML tags to enhance their content with rich-media features."
Instant Articles works for any article type. Nothing changes with regard to link sharing. Facebook says there is no need to link or post an Instant Article differently. Each is associated with a link, so when a friend or page shares a link in News Feed, readers see the Instant Article version if it's available. People who are on devices that don't yet support Instant Articles will just see the normal version of the content.
One question that is likely on every publisher's mind is: How will this affect my referral traffic? Here's Facebook's answer: "Instant Articles display within the Facebook app, so readers no longer redirect to the publisher's website. Facebook worked with publishers and comScore to enable Instant Articles views in Facebook's app to count as traffic to the original publishers, just as they do on the mobile web."
For the most part this all sound pretty good for everybody involved - a win/win for Facebook and publishers. For now. The main concern is that publishers will come to rely on Facebook too much, as many have in the past, and as we all know, being at the mercy of Facebook's doings doesn't always work out that great in the end.
That said, the fact that your content still resides on your own site would seem to alleviate that concern. You still won't have to rely solely on Facebook. Honestly, based on what Facebook has presented so far, I'm not seeing a lot of downside. If anything, it could be a chance for publishers to make up some lost ground in the News Feed.
What do you think about Instant Articles? Let us know in the comments.
Image via Facebook