This spring, without much fanfare or celebration, Facebook launched a new feature directed at content publishers. This new feature would allow certain mobile users to quickly read and interact with content and rich media in mere seconds, leveraging the same technology it currently uses to display auto-play videos and similar features.
But now there are hints that Facebook is revving up its engine even more to bring faster, on-demand content to everyone.
It’s called Instant Articles.
Initially only available to a select few publishers and originally tested against a little over 12% of Facebook’s iPhone-using audience, the preliminary results of Instant Articles show a great deal of promise.
Mike Matas, Design Lead for Instant Articles at Facebook, demonstrates how the new feature can be used
What Do Instant Articles Do?
Think of Instant Articles as a way to take content further. Instant Articles is Facebook’s “carrot” to convince content publishers to use them as more than just a social network, but as a hybrid social content aggregation platform that combines the sheer reach of Facebook with the allure of content marketing and mobile interactivity.
Companies involved in the Instant Articles launch were able to take advantage of a wide range of features, including auto-play videos, tilt-to-pan photos, audio captions and interactive maps to name a few.
What Are Readers Saying About the Feature?
According to Vic Gondotra, the former chief of Google+, Facebook’s Instant Articles experience is “Amazing… buttery smooth…Zero wait time for the article to load and the videos play instantly. This is better than the New York Times own newsstand app (which takes time long [sic] to load and I have to leave the newsfeed) and way better than the website.”
If the person in charge of running Google+ is congratulating Facebook on its new feature, while subsequently not taking a moment to even mention Google’s own Pinterest-like “Collections” feature, you know it has to be good.
Currently, the Instant Articles service appears to be well-optimized for iPhone users, but decidedly cumbersome for Android users. WebProNews author Chris Chum noted that, “it seemed to take longer to load than articles typically do. I’m not sure if this is indicative of what we can expect on Android from all Instant Articles or if this was just one particular instance. My guess is that all the rich media in that particular article (which Facebook is touting as part of this, mind you) are what really slowed it down.”
When Will Instant Articles Become Available for Other Publishers?
Just a week ago, Facebook announced that anyone using their app on iPhone could take advantage of the speed and seamless interaction of Instant Articles – potentially opening up the reading possibilities across thousands of articles in their news feed every day. Instant Article-optimized stories are noted by a little lightning bolt in the upper right corner of the article:
A lightning bolt denotes the super fast loading and seamless interaction of an Instant Article. Source: WebProNews
Although Facebook has revealed that it will be bringing on more and more publishers, Instant Articles aren’t available for the rest of us just yet. If you want to prepare ahead of time for the moment when it is released to the masses, there’s a comprehensive developer’s guide that walks you through the steps you need to get set up.
At the moment, signing on to Instant Articles requires approval from Facebook, and as of yet there’s no timeframe or indication as to when that could be or what it involves.
Instant Articles are accessed via an intuitive dashboard that lets you edit your content much in the same way as a blog post
If you’re worried about alienating Android users (who are currently still in the throes of an admittedly clunky reception of Instant Articles on their respective devices), don’t be – Facebook is planning to release Instant Articles via their Android app later this year.
What Kind of Results are People Getting?
Although the testing is still in its early phases, the overall reception to Instant Articles is very positive. According to Michael Reckhow, product manager for the Instant Articles feature is promising. Although he didn’t give concrete numbers in a recent interview, he did say that “…people are more likely to share these articles compared to articles on the mobile web, because Instant Articles load faster; the majority load in under a second and that means people are getting to the content immediately.”
He also continued that, “[w]e believe that sharing is the strongest signal someone can give that it was a great experience.”
Instant Articles are showing great promises as they’re shared more than traditional mobile articles. Image source: Nieman Labs
Greater Customizability and Reporting
Instant Articles are not just another way to aggregate content, but rather a more in depth rich media experience. For example, publishers can embed their Google Analytics data to see how their content is performing. They can also measure things like article opens and scroll depth, thanks to Facebook’s own reporting. Because the articles are shared using HTML, there’s not a lot of cumbersome set up or management to deal with. Publishers can preview their articles before they go live to ensure that everything looks and loads correctly – from colors and branding, to monetization features.
And speaking of monetization, currently publishers can put ads in their instant content and keep the revenue or they can leverage Facebook’s Audience network. The content remains in the control and care of the original publisher, but takes advantage of Facebook’s unprecedented reach to spread that content out to more targeted audiences.
I Want In! How do I Apply?
Although Facebook is rightfully rolling out the red carpet to Instant Articles to a handpicked few of its major publishing partners, you can still go through the developer’s guide to get your own content catalog set up and ready, and then complete the application process here.
And don’t think for a moment that Google is content to let Facebook take a huge bite out of its own mobile initiatives – particularly ad revenue. You might be interested to know that Google is working on its own answer to Instant Articles – and making it open source. This opens up a whole lot of limitless potential for content marketers and publishers alike.
Now if we can just keep our enthusiasm contained a little longer!
What are your thoughts on Instant Articles? Are you one of the privileged few iPhone users who have seen or used them firsthand? What were your initial impressions? Tell us more about it in the comments below!