Facebook Starts Hosting Publishers’ “Instant Articles”

Facebook Starts Hosting Publishers’ “Instant Articles”

After months of rumors, Facebook today unveiled “Instant Articles”, a program that natively hosts publishers’ content in its app’s News Feed so users don’t have to click out and wait for websites to load. Instant Articles debuts today with rich-media stories from The New York Times, check out Instant Articles for yourself by visiting the feature’s Facebook Page on an iPhone. For more on Facebook’s strategy, read our feature piece: Facebook’s Quest To Absorb The Internet.

Assuaging publishers’ fears that Facebook would keep all the data, the social network will share analytics, and Instant Articles is compatible with audience measurement and attribution tools like comScore, Omniture, and Google Analytics. Ads can appear inside Instant Articles, with publishers keeping 100% of revenue if they sell them, and Facebook keeps its standard 30% if it sells the ads, as the Wall Street Journal previously reported.

Instant Articles won’t receive preferential treatment from Facebook’s News Feed sorting algorithm just because of their format. But if users click, like, comment, and share Instant Articles more often than others, they may show up higher and more frequently in feed like any piece of popular content. That could incentivize, or implicitly force, more publishers to adopt the new hosted format.

Beyond just loading faster, Facebook will parse HTML and RSS to display articles with fonts, layouts, and formats that make Instant Articles feel like a publisher’s website. But Facebook is also providing vivid media options like embedding zoomable photos, videos, and maps with audio captions, plus contextual ‘Ambient Videos’. Justin Osofsky, the company’s VP Of Global Operations and Media Partnerships, says publishers “can have the same tools that an app developer has. They’re not stuck with what the mobile web can offer.”

If the Instant Articles test is well received, Facebook hopes to add more publishers in the coming weeks with the goal of making it available to any outlet that shares stories on Facebook.

tl;dr – Facebook is trying to plug the holes where users leak out. Slow mobile web article load times lead people to leave its app. Speeding up the reading experience by subsuming it could make sure people stay on Facebook connecting with friends, discovering content, and seeing ads. But the program further indebts publishers to Facebook, and they have to play by its rules.

Designed On Paper

Many think Facebook’s dedicated news reader Paper was a failure because it wasn’t a hit with tens of millions of users. But like Camera, Slingshot, and Facebook’s other standalone apps, it was designed to provide Facebook with insights about user behavior that it could bring back to its main app. This is how Facebook figured out photo filters and stickers, and now Paper has taught it about the stylized reading experience publishers want to provide.
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