Facebook's long-awaited direct-to-Facebook publishing service was finally announced on Wednesday, giving publisher the ability to directly post their articles to the social networking giant's site.
In essence, Facebook Instant Articles are pieces of content that are consumed in their entirety on Facebook's mobile apps, meaning the reader does not have to click through to the publisher's site. At launch, brands like Buzzfeed, NYT, BBC News, The Guardian and National Geographic have access to create and publish these instant articles, but should it be successful, open access could potentially change the way the industry works:
1. It's incredibly fast
We now live in a world where everyone expects stuff instantaneously, particularly online and on mobile. A long standing pain point of reading and consuming content through Facebook's mobile app is the time it takes to load - 8 seconds on average according to FB - Instant Articles removes this lag by delivering what it says in the name.
2. A bigger audience
936 million daily active users and 798 million DAU on mobile can't be a bad place to start. Publishing directly to Facebook, will allow publishers to get their content in front of the world's largest online member base much more easily than before. The ease of sharing the content back to your network from within the app, rather than through a publishers site will only increase traffic and engagement across the board - a plus for both Facebook and publishers.
3. More personalised content
As with most social media platforms, there will be an algorithm in there somewhere, and based on what you as the reader engage with, the articles you see in the future will be tailored around that. Whilst that could mean that you miss out on content you'd find by exploring a publishers site, it can also mean that content becomes more personal and relevant to each individual.
4. Interactive articles
This one for me is big. In general, reading medium to long form posts online is quite one dimensional, it's all based around text and any additional features seem to require a quite cumbersome user experience. Instant articles change this by adding in a bunch of new and exciting interactive features, allowing publishers to bring their articles to life:
- Auto-play video as you scroll
- Interactive maps
- Audio captions
- Ability to explore images by tilting your phone
- Engage with individual parts of an article in line - Medium's best feature
5. Mobile first
The whole idea is (currently) based around mobile, and with well over half of all traffic to the site coming from mobile devices, it's a good place to start. For publishers too, it also means that problems around having non-mobile optimised sites are alleviated as the content no longer needs to be consumed there. Mobile is where the world and online is headed, and for me Instant Articles could kick-start a change in the way brands think about content and site design.
6. A publisher partnership
This isn't just a case of Facebook trying to retain more traffic; it's actually looks like they've developed this in partnership with a number of key publishers, putting them, the content providers, first.
Publishers will still be able to access data such as comScore, Omniture & Google Analytics to understand the audience, and they will also have the option of selling ads in the articles, keeping 100% of revenue, or using Facebook's Audience Network to reach new audiences.
All of the above points show me that Facebook have put a lot of thought into the release of Instant Articles, and it certainly doesn't feel as rushed as some of their previous launches - anyone remember Slingshot?
The only question for me is, are users on Facebook really there to consume news?