Facebook Instant Articles is a way for publishers to post their articles directly to the social network's iOS app, allowing the articles to load faster for users than if they had to be redirected to (often clunky) publisher websites. They also include other interactive formats such as embedded video, GIFs that automatically load, and a way to expand a large image by moving your phone back and forward, as BuzzFeed demonstrates.
This could be the future of news on the web, making news articles even easier to publish and share among Facebook's vast audience.
Or it could further hurt news publishers by stealing the business they have developed on the web and transferring it into an arena controlled by Facebook. Earlier this week Facebook began testing its own search engine, which will allow users to find and post links to articles without venturing anywhere near Google — another way for Facebook to remove the need for you to navigate away from its platform.
The first Facebook Instant Articles partners are: BuzzFeed, The Guardian, The New York Times, National Geographic, NBC News, The Atlantic, Spiegel Online, and Bild.
Some publishers, including News UK, the biggest newspaper publisher in the UK, had been skeptical about the introduction on Facebook Instant. News UK's CMO told Business Insider last year such an idea would be a "tax on navigation," and a "tax on audience," referring to the data Facebook would garner about publishers' readers, and that visits to their own sites might be cannibalized, along with some associated ad revenue (or, in the case of News UK's The Sun and The Times, which operate behind a paywall, potential subscription revenue).
TechCrunch reports, however, that Facebook says it will share analytics and that Instant Articles will be compatible with traditional online measurement systems like comScore, Omniture, and Google Analytics (so audiences will not be lost to Facebook, in other words).
In addition, publishers will receive "100%" of the revenue from ads that appear inside Facebook Instant articles. Facebook will split revenue (with 70% going to the publisher) only if it sells the ads against the articles. They can also use the Facebook Audience Network (which allows advertisers to extend their Facebook campaigns into other non-Facebook apps) to sell any leftover ad inventory. That should also seek to allay publishers' fears about any potential cannibalization. But critics could say it's a mere marketing move to encourage publishers and advertisers to buy more advertising through Facebook.
Those publishers not part of the launch group might fear that Facebook Instant articles will get bumped up the all-important News Feed, but Facebook says this will not be the case. Of course, if users click on lots of Facebook Instant articles, the algorithm will adapt to their preferences and show them more of that kind of content.
The launch of Facebook Instant is not the first time the social network has asked publishers to form content partnerships. In 2011, a number of publishers including The Guardian, The Washington Post, Business Insider, and The Independent partnered with Facebook to create "Social Reader" apps to allow users to consume and share content in the Facebook environment.
In 2012, however, most of those publishers began to phase out those apps. Though many of them proved extremely popular, the majority of the engagement was happening only on the Facebook platform, without much click-through to the publishers' sites (where they can generate revenue). In some cases it was even having a negative impact on traffic to publishers' sites. The Social Reader App also generated what many users deemed as excessive updates about what readers were reading, clunking up the News Feed.
Earlier this year Facebook also launched standalone app Paper, its answer to news-aggregation apps like Feedly and Flipboard. But its popularity tanked soon after launch.
Google last month announced a "Digital News Initiative" with eight European publishers, investing in training, partnerships, and research to develop new digital journalism ideas.
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