Last week, Facebook announced that it would make its Instant Articles feature available to all publishers in April 2016. So, if you’re a publisher, what does it mean for you?
How many times have you been browsing on the Facebook app, seen a link to a news article and clicked it? And then, find that the load time isn’t exactly speedy, so, frustrated, you close the blank page and exit the app completely? Happens often, I know.
“We built Instant Articles to solve a specific problem—slow loading times on the mobile web created a problematic experience for people reading news on their phones.” Josh Roberts, Product Manager, Facebook
According to Facebook, Instant Articles should solve this problem on mobile. It will allow publishers to host content directly on their Facebook pages meaning users aren’t directed to the publisher’s own site. It also strips out most of the code that publishers use and pre-fetches stories (transfers data from main memory to temporary storage for later use) as you approach the article in your newsfeed – all of which will result in faster load times. Hooray!
What does it offer?
According to Facebook’s developers page, Instant Articles promises to:
- Display articles up to 10 times faster on mobile, giving you a smoother and more fluid user experience.
- Provide new tools that allow publishers to bring their stories to life – so you can expect high-res photos, auto-play videos and interactive maps.
- Keep the control firmly in the publisher’s hands – in terms of what they publish, how they publish it (see above) and ease of publication (according to Facebook anyway).
Back in May 2015…
Initially, Instant Articles was only available to big time publishers like National Geographic, NBC News, The New York Times and good ol’ Buzzfeed. Now, it has expanded to a few hundred publishers.
But from April 2016…
Instant Articles will be available to all publishers, big and small.
What’s in it for you?
“With Instant Articles, publishers have full control over the look of their stories, as well as data and ads.” Josh Roberts, Product Manager, Facebook
If you’re a small publisher without the server resources that larger publishers have, Instant Articles could be the answer to faster-loading pages that reach your intended audience.
Facebook has also ensured that publishers using Instant Articles can monetise it by allowing them to sell ads inside them. If publishers manage these ads themselves, they keep 100% of the revenue or they can give Facebook a 30% cut to manage it for them.
According to Facebook, they will continue to give publishers access to data and track traffic through their own analytics systems and other providers like Google Analytics.
Take this as a pro or a con, depending on your view of Instant Articles. Currently, Facebook is not giving Instant Articles preferential treatment on people’s news feed. However, if users decide to engage with the article, either by clicking, liking, commenting or sharing it, the article may show up higher and more frequently just like regular posts. Whether this encourages (or forces) you to use Instant Articles is up to you.
The process to ‘build’ an Instant Article involves some understanding of HTML5 and RSS. So unless you’ve got these skills in-house or can at least access these skills someway, it may be a little techy.
And as mentioned, as Instant Articles will use a stripped down version of the article, this could potentially decrease the chance of users viewing other relevant content and engaging with the content in ways they normally would if they were on the publisher’s website.
What’s in it for Facebook?
It adds to Facebook’s huge variety of content types already. It could mean that users spend more time on the site, which in turn makes it more attractive to publishers, advertisers and even normal users like you and me.
For publishers and advertisers, it could also mean that they rely even more heavily on Facebook as a source of traffic. But what happens if or when Facebook want to make changes that could impact their content?
There are a lot of thoughts online about Instant Articles at the moment, including pros and cons for and against the feature. As for us, we’re not making our mind up about it until we can give it a go ourselves in April.