Facebook Instant Articles: Will Facebook revolutionize online news broadcasting?

Social media behemoth Facebook launched its Instant Articles property in the United States on May 12. The feature, which is currently available on the iPhone app, has partnered with nine major publications viz The New York Times, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, NBC, The Atlantic, The Guardian, BBC News, Spiegel and Bild.

The new feature “makes the reading experience as much as ten times faster than standard mobile web articles,” the social media giant said in a blog post.

Interestingly, this is Facebook’s second foray into disseminating news content to its users after Facebook Paper. The first product sank without a trace and the team behind Paper came up with Instant Articles.

What does Instant Articles do?

Instant Articles helps a user to read a piece from any one of the partnered publishers without leaving the Facebook app on their phone. If a piece from, say The New York Times or BuzzFeed appears on your timeline, Instant Articles helps you to load the content on the same platform without redirecting you to the web.

Another feature of Instant Articles is that it is interactive. A user will be enabled to auto-play videos as they scroll through a story. Apart from the auto-play feature, they can also view interactive maps, take a closer look at high-res images by simply zooming-in, comment on individual parts in an article, listen to audio captions and so much more!

Facebook Instant Articles

Why Instant Articles?

Facebook said that to load an article on a handheld device, it takes about 8 seconds, which is tad slow. This being the slowest type of content, Instant Articles helps you to load the same article relatively faster.

Paper’s engineer Ben Cunningham had disclosed on Twitter that with the help of a tool called AsyncDisplayKit (which was initially developed for Paper), Instant Articles makes loading articles quicker by tapping into iPhone’s multi-core processors.

Basically, Instant Articles is a product that helps load articles faster than the conventional method appeases everyone; from the publisher to the reader.

However, Instant Articles’ launch and presentation was not smooth, it had its own share of controversies. Before launch, publishers were skeptical that they will not get the power to control their content. However, Facebook with its publisher-friendly approach designed Instant Articles in such a way that they get complete hold on their content and publishers can also monetize from it.

Apparently, Facebook learnt a good deal from Google’s problems. Google in April had said that it is mulling to give US$168 million to European publishers and start-ups in the digital content space over three years so as to support its news property.

Let’s talk moolah!

Surely, everyone is interested to know how does Facebook and its partner publications rake in money. As already stated, Facebook Instant Articles gives the publisher complete hold over content and also helps them monetize.

Publishers can sell ads on their articles, keep the revenue and have a jolly good time or they can let Facebook’s Audience Network to earn from the unsold space. Interestingly, Facebook is also offering 100 per cent revenue. The question that looms large so far is, will the publisher be able to generate more revenue than their own websites? As the pattern is, most of the sites carry more advertisements per page and rumour has it that Facebook will show only one ad per article. With the Instant Articles being on mobile, a lot of publishers find it hard to make decent money from mobile ad sales.

This is where revenue from Facebook Instant Articles fit in. Instant Articles will help publishers make more money from mobile sales than the kind of revenue they make from their own sales department.

What does Facebook Instant Articles hold for non-partners?

Facebook in India received a lot of flak for internet.org, wherein the company claims that their endeavour is to make the Internet affordable and easily accessible for all. Critics also said that internet.org is a Facebook proxy for targeting India’s poor as it favours a few hand-picked sites.

In their defence, Facebook also roped in former Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin who is well aware with the subject of net neutrality.

A major concern amongst news websites is that, by publishing news directly on Facebook, it may lead to eventual censorship. While Facebook will not take the risk of censoring any news story owing to their stand on net neutrality, people at this stage are cynical that users will have access to only a few stories.

In my guess, when Instant Articles makes its debut in India, the non-partner websites will stick with the conventional method of circulating their news, but with a delay of more than 8 seconds – given the slow Internet speed.