Facebook Brings The New York Times, BuzzFeed And Others On Board With “Instant Articles”

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Facebook’s publisher outreach program is finally launching.

The social network announced early this morning that it will start hosting content from publishers directly on its platform with a new product called “Instant Articles.”

The move has been long anticipated; Facebook was known to be negotiating with publishers about terms of the deal for the last several months. There are nine launch partners — The New York Times, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, NBC, The Atlantic, The Guardian, BBC News, Spiegel and Bild — with the Times, BuzzFeed, the Atlantic, NBC and National Geographic expected to post stories in the format Wednesday morning.

Facebook says Instant Articles are designed to load quickly on users’ mobile phones — at launch they will be available on the Facebook iPhone app.

Here’s how Facebook’s blog post announcing described the new product:

As more people get their news on mobile devices, we want to make the experience faster and richer on Facebook. People share a lot of articles on Facebook, particularly on our mobile app. To date, however, 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.

Along with a faster experience, Instant Articles introduces a suite of interactive features that allow publishers to bring their stories to life in new ways. Zoom in and explore high-resolution photos by tilting your phone. Watch auto-play videos come alive as you scroll through stories. Explore interactive maps, listen to audio captions, and even like and comment on individual parts of an article in-line.

We designed Instant Articles to give publishers control over their stories, brand experience and monetization opportunities. 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.

“Fundamentally, this is a tool that enables publishers to provide a better experience for their readers on Facebook” said Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox. “Instant Articles lets them deliver fast, interactive articles while maintaining control of their content and business models.”

Publishers, who have grown ever more dependent on referral traffic from Facebook, have been wary of giving up the advertising revenue and user data they glean from people who visit their sites. But the terms of Instant Articles seem good enough to assuage those who might be hesitant. Also the partnership is experimental — there are no commitments to publish a certain number of articles a day and publishers can stop at any time.

“We’re going in with our eyes open,” New York Times CEO Mark Thompson told Re/code.

Here are some other notable features of Instant Articles (pulled from coverage by Re/code, TechCrunch and The Verge):

  • Media partners will use their own publishing tools to create Instant Articles; Facebook’s system will then convert stories into the proper format for the Facebook app.
  • Publishers will also be able to add multimedia elements to the stories, including embedded tweets, YouTube videos, photos, image galleries, videos and interactive graphics.
  • Elements of the design were borrowed from Facebook’s news reading app Paper.
  • Publications’ logos and a Facebook Page “follow” button will appear on top of every story. Optionally publishers can include authors’ and photographers’ Facebook photos in the presentation within the story.
  • comScore will give Instant Article publishers full credit for traffic the stories generate on Facebook’s app.
  • Facebook says it won’t favor Instant Articles in the News Feed algorithm. “But given their novelty, and the fact they’re designed to be eye-catching, it seems very likely that these things will get lots of attention at the start,” Re/code’s Peter Kafka notes.
  • Facebook hopes to eventually roll out Instant Articles to any publisher that shares stories on Facebook.
  • Facebook will allow publishers’ sponsored content — like the posts BuzzFeed creates for advertisers  — to be uploaded into the system.

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About The Author

Martin Beck was Third Door Media’s Social Media Reporter from March 2014 through December 2015.

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