Instant Articles : Beginning or the End for Publicists?

Instant articles are Facebook’s latest innovation- articles which have been adapted from their original format into one which is truly compatible with the Facebook site and associated apps. The main idea behind them is to plug a hole which can lead to users leaving Facebook (the average lag time for content to download on the Facebook app is eight seconds), but instant articles will also come with a variety of innovations to change the way the information is presented.

Facebook created instant articles for a number of reasons: the main reason was the one given above – the loss of users through unavoidable lag time – but there are a number of other factors too. The entire experience of reading an article becomes more interactive with instant articles, with maps and instant play videos adding a whole new dimension to the experience; both Facebook and the original publishers of any content used can track who is reading the content via Google analytics and other programs; and using instant articles is being marketed as a way for publishers to provide a better experience for their readers.

It’s been claimed that instant articles will take publishing rights away from their rightful owners – i.e. from the people who created the content in the first place – by keeping everything within the nice, tidy blue box of Facebook. It is true that original publishing stands to lose quite a lot via this new initiative – they will see a decrease in original traffic to their sites, with all the associated disadvantages that that will bring in the form of fewer pre-numeration fees and so on. On the other hand, instant articles have the potential to revolutionise the ways in which publishers of original content can interact with more people than they could before due to the intervention of Facebook. Having their content marketed on such a mainstream site as Facebook will expose it to millions of viewers simultaneously, which – unless the publisher in question is already a mainstream site – will be a huge increase in potential page views.

Facebook has anticipated some of the potential problems with instant articles by ensuring that they themselves do not gain all the credit for articles which draw traffic. This works in two different ways – traffic to any particular article is automatically credited to the original publishers, and not to Facebook; any revenue which is generated from online ads attached to the instant articles is divided as follows: if the ads on the article sell anything, the publisher is given one hundred percent of those earnings. If those same ads generate money on Facebook itself, it will keep thirty percent of the earnings, and give the rest to the publisher.

In the ever-changing digital world, sites and publishers have to adapt if they want to survive and stay relevant to consumers who want the latest news and updates almost faster than they know. Looked at in that sense, the amalgamation of Facebook with traditional publishing could be seen as a good thing, especially since instant articles are specifically designed to be compatible with the mobile devices which are becoming more and more popular every day. However, there could be a danger beyond that of the continued death throes of traditional publishing: Facebook is gradually extending itself into almost every aspect of the online world, first via games, then business websites, and now news and publishing sites.

Conformity may make things easier in the short term, but the uniqueness of the online world has always been part of its appeal to users.
What happens when that uniqueness is gone?

// A.E.

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Arnt Eriksen. Simplifying the complexity
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