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Facebook Launches Instant Articles

Facebook last week announced the launch of a new initiative for publishers, Instant Articles, which will allow them to post native articles directly into the newsfeed. The move has been rumoured for some weeks now, ever since the New York Times broke the story that it would be one of the first to use the new feature.

Facebook has partnered with some of the webs biggest publishers such as Buzzfeed, BBC News, National Geographic and NBC News. The new feature launched last Wednesday and the social media site said in an email that it would be “extending it to new publishers as it’s developed through the rest of the year.”

Publishers who are interested in signing up for the new feature should contact Facebook to register their interest and join the Facebook Group for Publishers. At the moment, the feature will only be available on iPhone, but it’s expected to come to Android in the near future too.

Important Source for Publishers

Facebook say that the new feature has been launched as whilst the site realises that it has become an important source of traffic for online publishers, articles that are read on mobile are one of the slowest parts of its app. It’s thought that posting articles natively could speed up the reading experience for users by as much as 10X.

At the moment, mobile users wanting to read articles through Facebook have to click on a link and wait for the post to load in another page. In my experience, these don’t always work well on mobile devices inside the app, as they often cut off part of an article, as well as being slow to load. Native articles will appear in the newsfeed much like native videos and will provide a much faster experience.

Advertising Revenue and Traffic

It’s thought that Facebook will incentivise publishers by offering them the opportunity to keep 100% of ad revenues that they sell as well as 70% of Facebook ad inventory sold by the social network.

Whilst there are concerns surrounding how much data information publishers will get once articles are hosted by Facebook, according to the product manager for Instant Articles, Michael Reckhow, Instant Articles will provide all of the traffic measurement data that publishers could need from major firms such as Adobe Analytics, Google Analytics and ComScore and as such publishers would continue to “get traffic credit.”

How it Works

On iPhone, rather than see a link in your newsfeed, you might see a cover image which moves. According to the New York Times, the first post from NBC News featured a sprinkler watering an almond tree.

“You can have these living, breathing photographs that become video,” said Mike Matas, product designer for Instant Articles.

Once you go ahead and click on the cover, the article instantly loads and embedded images appear in high resolution. You can then zoom in on any image by touch or by tilting the handset. Videos in the articles will also autoplay as you scroll down and it’s also possible that some publishers will add audio to images.

You can share the story on Facebook and other social media sites. It’s thought that the feature works by integration with publishers’ CMSs by reading special tags coded into the article in order to format it for Facebook.

“It kind of takes the best of our storytelling and journalism, in all of its multimedia forms, and renders that beautifully within the Facebook experience in a way that allows us to get traffic credit,” said Julian March, senior vice president for innovation and editorial at NBC News.

Good News for Publishers

The new feature is good news for publishers as it allows them to use the power of Facebook to further engage with readers, whilst ensuring that they don’t lose out in terms of traffic and advertising revenue. Articles that are quicker to load are also sure to mean an increase in engagement; Facebook has seen huge success with native video and has surpassed YouTube in terms of video engagement.

TechCrunch report that “Instant Articles won’t receive preferential treatment from Facebook’s sorting algorithm just because of their format” but they may of course show up more if they gain more engagement. This, TechCrunch point out, could “implicitly force” further publishers to sign up to the new feature.

Hard to Ignore Features

However, the feature sounds good enough so far that it’s unlikely that publishers won’t want to sign up for the service. Not only does the feature work to ensure that the formatting is true to the publisher site, but it offers an enriched reading experience to users that will be hard to ignore. The only real areas of concern for publishers have been in advertising revenue and the ability to retain traffic data, as well as branding. The social media site has worked hard to listen to the needs of the larger publishers in order to bring a feature that works well for everyone.

Buzzfeed for example wanted to be assured that the site would work with them to ensure that the popular quizzes that they post would still work natively. Indeed, TechCrunch report that the list-post specialist gave Facebook a list of features that it wanted to see in Instant Articles some time ago. It seems that the social network worked to adhere to everything on the list in order to ensure that publishers were happy with the new feature.

It’s thought that Facebook will also expand its analytics for publisher tools, released back in December.

All-in-all it seems like a great move by Facebook with pretty good features that will enhance the mobile user experience substantially. It’s not clear when Instant Articles will be rolled out to smaller publishers, but I for one look forward to using it on both a personal and professional level.

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