Is Facebook Throttling Major Publications on Mobile?
It's no secret that Facebook is opening up its Instant Articles to all publishers next month. This, potentially, could be a great thing for content creators across the world, giving them better access to Facebook's audience while simultaneously taking advantage of this fast and immersive user experience. It'll also allow publishers to monetize their content in new ways.
Google and Twitter's response to this is its new partnership around the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project which recently launched. It's also rumored that LinkedIn is working on a version of this, as well.
These tech giants are moving in this direction in order to keep people on their site longer - rather than clicking on a link and leaving Facebook.com or Google.com, the user will be delivered a cached version of the content they want to read right there on the same domain. You can think of it as syndication of original content on Google or Facebook.
In theory, this lends itself to a speedier and more satisfying user experience in the mobile environment. Since Google indexes most of the web anyway, it's not much of a technological leap for them to cache articles and serve them up right there in the search engine. On the other hand, Facebook has to rely on publishers to give it the content it publishes on Instant Articles.
One way to make it as easy as possible for publishers to use Instant articles is for Facebook to provide a WordPress plugin. Since 25% of all websites are on WordPress, establishing a turnkey publishing mechanism via a plugin is a smart move. And that's precisely what Facebook announced yesterday.
That's one way to encourage publishers to use Instant Articles. The other way would be considered nefarious by most. As many of you know, Net Neutrality is a concept that treats all content on the Internet in a neutral or equal manner. It's language that generally comes up in discussions around Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offering fast and slow lanes for websites on the Internet. In other words, ISPs would get to pick the publishing winners and losers by only providing the fast lane to websites willing to pay.
The US Congress has attempted several times to pass legislation allowing ISPs to do this. However, last year, the FCC announced that it would base new Net Neutrality rules on Title II of the Communications Act, giving Internet users the strongest protections possible. This reaffirmed the guiding principles behind Net Neutrality.
What if fast and slow lanes could be created by non-ISPs? For Google there's really no advantage to throttling (slowing) certain publishers content. However, as previously mentioned, Facebook's entire Instant Articles initiative is beholden to whether or not publishers syndicate their content on the platform.
I, like many of you, spend copious amounts of time reading industry news almost daily. Facebook is one of the sources I use to discover interesting content. Over the last week I've noticed it's getting increasingly difficult, in some cases impossible, to read articles from major publishers posted on Facebook through my phone and iPad.
The articles either constantly refresh or reload so I can't read them, or I'm inundated with pop-ups asking me to leave Facebook. If I actually want to read them I have to open articles in Safari. This is happening with sites like Huffington Post, Mashable, TechCrunch and Business Insider.
Could it be that Facebook is telling major publishers that if they want their content consumed by its audience they better get on Instant Articles? Is Facebook purposely throttling major publications' content? On the surface it looks that way. Keep an eye on this space because whether we like it or not, there's a secret content visibility war happening between several tech giants.
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