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Facebook is now a publisher, launches Instant Articles

It’s official, Facebook is now a publisher. Instant Articles, a new product for publishers to create fast, interactive articles on Facebook, officially launched yesterday. It has been in discussion and planning since a few months ago.

For now, Facebook is working with nine launch partners for Instant Articles: The New York Times, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, NBC, The Atlantic, The Guardian, BBC News, Spiegel and Bild.

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“Fundamentally, this is a tool that enables publishers to provide a better experience for their readers on Facebook” said Chris Cox, Facebook Chief Product Officer.

There’s no doubt that people share plenty of articles on Facebook. As a result of this, the platform has become a place where readers go to find what people are reading. This is convenient as articles are collected into a single site. Instant Articles is taking advantage of this.

There have however already been negative reactions to the feature. These are welcomed reactions but if Facebook does not interfere, which is to be expected, it could be great for users and for Facebook. Essentially, Instant Articles turns Facebook into a platform similar to Feedly, Flipboard, Palabre, Google News. This feature is also in line with Facebook’s quest to confine its users within the platform and have no reason to ever leave.

Mark Thompson, President and CEO of the New York Times company said “We have a long tradition of meeting readers where they are and that means being available not just on our own sites, but on the social platforms frequented by many current and potential Times users.”
The feature, Facebook says in a statement, solves one of many problems that users experience with articles shared on Facebook, particularly on mobile devices.

“These stories take an average of eight seconds to load, by far the slowest single content type on Facebook. Instant Articles makes the reading experience as much as ten times faster than standard mobile web articles.” The company said.

The feature is however far more than a quick access to articles. Instant Articles comes with slick features of its own. Publishers can allow for users to zoom in and explore high resolution photos by tilting their phone. Users can watch auto-play videos come alive as they scroll through stories. Publishers can add interactive maps, listen to audio captions, and even like and comment on individual parts of an article in-line. Multimedia story telling has been looming in publishing midst for a long time, not quite being perfected, and a few videos here and there that accommodate articles but ending there. It is clear that Facebook will plant a seed in the content creators not only in publishing text but also how to bring all the reporting into a single articles and not as it is now in most publication existing in separate places.

The one thing that plagues online consumption of content is and has always been how one makes money from it. The company says that it is up to the publishers to deal with this.

“Publishers can sell ads in their articles and keep the revenue, or they can choose to use Facebook’s Audience Network to monetize unsold inventory. Publishers will also have the ability to track data and traffic through comScore and other analytics tools.” The company said in a blog post.

Instant Articles sounds like a great idea for publishers who have the capacity to produce the extra content and its extra features. For small publishers, producing this content is going to be financially challenging, driving publishers to maximise its monetary value. Should they find balance in doing this and not lean towards ads than content then they will win but this will be a delicate balance to find.

Instant Articles is launching on Facebook for iPhone with a special set of stories published by The New York Times, BuzzFeed, National Geographic, NBC and The Atlantic. Facebook says it will continue developing and improve Instant Articles with its partners over the coming months and the feedback from readers.

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