Today, Facebook is launching a new program that will allow participating news organizations that range from The New York Times to BBC News to publish content directly to Facebook. Rather than sharing a link to their own publication website, Facebook promises instant articles with load times that will be up to ten times faster.
Interestingly, just last March, The New York Times published a piece about the possibility of the plan, Facebook May Host News Sites’ Content, while listing itself as a possible partner. Noting, “Facebook intends to begin testing the new format in the next several months, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions,” The New York Times also listed BuzzFeed as being in talks with Facebook.
Writing of its involvement in the program today, this newspaper noted, “The New York Times has been cautious about the Facebook program, viewing it as an experiment that could help it learn more about subscribers and potential subscribers who are reading its articles on Facebook.” In its previous post from March, however, the publication cited concerns about a loss of reader data as one of its concerns with the plan.
Facebook's plan to directly host articles on its site involves media companies including NBC News, BuzzFeed, The New York Times, National Geographic, The Atlantic and more.
Posted by The New York Times on Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Casey Newton, Silicon Valley editor at The Verge, writes in his piece that was published this morning, Facebook’s Instant Articles Arrive to Speed Up the News Feed, “Perhaps the most important thing to note about Facebook’s instant articles is that they feel inevitable. Content hosted on apps rather than websites isn’t the future of media – it’s the present.” In fact, as reported in The Wall Street Journal on Monday, Parse.ly, a provider of audience insights for digital publishers, found that at the end of 2014, Facebook had surpassed Google in sending readers to news sites (referral traffic).
At present, Facebook will allow publishers to sell ads on their instant articles themselves and keep the revenue. Facebook also offers the option to sell ads for the publishers, splitting the revenue.
What could this mean for publishers, going forward? Casey Newton floats a gloomy scenario for publishers, wherein traditional links become decreasingly effective on Facebook, instant articles will become popular – and Facebook takes an increasing cut of ad revenue. He writes, “What appeared to the media as a friendly tweak to the user interface was really a trap.”
As Jamie Condliffe writes in his opinion piece for Gizmodo this morning, “It remains to be seen how successful the experiment will be, of course – but if it does perform as well as Facebook hopes, publishers could well finds themselves even more reliant on a service they have little control over.” In terms of control, one aspect of this that comes up across articles, blogs and opinion pieces today as a serious point of concern is the issue of algorithm changes.
Facebook famously (or perhaps infamously) routinely “tweaks” its algorithm. In 2013, we at EGC took a look at dramatic changes in the News Feed algorithm and their impact. Additionally, we’ve looked at how Facebook shifted again in January of this year to push brands to promote more of its content to achieve visibility.
How this will work, and what the impact of inevitable algorithm tweaks will be, remains to be seen. Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project, with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, did find in recent research that 30% of US adults get news from Facebook. At the moment, 78% of those adults predominantly discover news when on Facebook for “other reasons” and only 34% of “Facebook news consumers” are actually following news organizations or journalists themselves. So, there’s certainly room to grow on the platform in attracting followers and consistently delivering content to them.
The user experience will matter a great deal in the success of Instant Articles. Facebook has worked to create a beautiful feature-rich experience here. For example, Facebook has always been an important home for photos. As early as 2011, Facebook was said to store more than 10,000 times more photos than the Library of Congress, and photos play a big role in this new publishing format.
Photos will be able to have accompanying audio captions. They can be Liked and commented on individually within stories, and also be geo-targeted with an interactive map that opens when the name of the location is tapped. Authors and photographers of Facebook articles and photos can be included at the top of the content, with links to their public profiles that users can choose to follow.
With the estimated marketing effect of Facebook in 2014 enabling $148 billion of economic impact and 2.3 million jobs, according to Deloitte, the global power of Facebook is unmistakable. And Instant Articles promises to create a new way to experience news, potentially adding value to the platform and making it more important than ever for all brands to have an active and strategic Facebook presence.