Facebook Instant Articles – a boon for publishers?

13 May 2015

Facebook Instant Articles on smartphone

Facebook has launched a new service called Instant Articles, a new way for publishers to post stories directly to Facebook, including interactive features like videos and maps.

In the usual Silicon Valley tech company fashion, it has partnered with large, successful online media brands including The New York Times, National Geographic, The Atlantic, The Guardian, BBC News, NBC, Buzzfeed, Spiegel Online and Bild to launch Instant Articles.

“Fundamentally, this is a tool that enables publishers to provide a better experience for their readers on Facebook,” said Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer.

“Instant Articles lets them deliver fast, interactive articles while maintaining control of their content and business models.”

The move by Facebook is in recognition of the fact that the internet has become the front page for many people and indeed Facebook’s News Feed is where most people get their news today.

“As more people get their news on mobile devices, we want to make the experience faster and richer on Facebook,” explained Michael Reckhow, product manager at Facebook.

“People share a lot of articles on Facebook, particularly on our mobile app. To date, however, these stories take an average of eight seconds to load, by far the slowest single content type on Facebook. Instant Articles makes the reading experience as much as ten times faster than standard mobile web articles.”

Stop the presses!

Facebook Instant Articles preview

The platform certainly looks nifty and comes with a suite of interactive freatures, such as the the ability to zoom in and explore high-res photos by tilting your phone, watch auto-play videos as you read stories and explore interactive maps, listen to audio captions and like and comment on individual parts of an article in-line.

The move is likely to be one that will be echoed by Google, which has also begun collaborating with publishers in its own digital Jetstream, including creating a €150m fund to create innovative new services to help publishers recover lost revenues.

But will it save publishers that, in the sharing and caring viral internet of today, can no longer view their front page in print or web as a front page, instead seeing individual articles that are shared as being the signpost to their sites and revenue streams?

It is early to say. Instant Articles is launching on the iPhone with the set of partners chosen by the social media giant and Facebook says it will continue to develop Instant Articles with its partners. But what about the wider publishing world that doesn’t have the scale and mass audiences of The New York Times or BuzzFeed? How soon can other publishers use this and what can we learn from the project?

Time will tell. But the truth is out – the mobile screen is the front page of news today.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years