In its never-ending quest to become the filter through which we see all the wonders of the web, Facebook has unveiled a new platform for news outlets. Instant Articles will offer tools for publishing articles direct to the social network, delivering rich, fast-loading mobile news content.
As Facebook points out, lots of links to articles on external websites are shared on the site every day. When clicked on a mobile device, these are loaded using the browser function of Facebook's mobile app. These links are by far its slowest loading single content type, taking an average of eight seconds to be displayed.
By employing the same technology used to display photos and videos in the Facebook app, Instant Articles will reportedly load up to ten times faster than articles hosted externally. A number of additional features are also being touted, such as interactive maps, the ability to autoplay videos and pan around images by tilting a device.
Of course, Facebook benefits from all of this by having more content from which to serve ads and by keeping more users on the site to view that content. Cynics might argue that a faster means of loading external content might be more beneficial to news publishers.
Facebook, however, says that the Instant Articles functionality is designed "to give publishers control over their stories, brand experience and monetization opportunities." Publishers will be able to sell and manage their own ads in the articles, without having to use Facebook's ad platform and will get to keep all the revenue generated. They will still be able to use Facebook’s ad platform to sell ads into unsold spaces and will also be able to use their existing analytics platforms.
It has to be said too that, at first glance, the articles do have the potential to look rather slick. Videos that play automatically and tilt-to-pan images help to animate the articles, while interactive maps into which you can zoom to see where photos were taken and audio captions to contextualize images help to add additional layers of information.
Facebook says that Instant Articles will provide a fast, interactive and engaging means for publishers to deliver content to their audiences. The noises it is making about ensuring publishers have control over their activity are encouraging, but many publishers will no doubt be wary of sharing their business data with Facebook and having to operate within its walled garden.
Instant Articles will launch first on Facebook for iPhone with content from The New York Times, BuzzFeed, National Geographic, NBC and The Atlantic.
What do you think? Would you like to see Gizmag trialing Instant Articles? Let us know in the comments.