After a few months of testing with select users, Facebook Instant Articles is now available for iOS to bring fast-loading news articles straight to the News Feed without requiring users to open a new website outside of the social network. Facebook has also announced a beta version for Android, which is scheduled to go live later this year.
Instant Articles Product Manager Michael Reckhow has announced in a blog post that the new articles will appear on users' News Feeds with a lightning bolt on the upper right corner to tell users it is an Instant Article. Reckhow says the lightning bolt also signifies that the article loads 10 times faster than it would when published on a platform outside of Facebook, such as the news organization's website.
"Instant Articles not only connect readers to stories faster; they also provide a richer reading experience than standard mobile web articles, with dynamic features that make the content more fluid, interactive and immersive," says Reckhow.
For instance, The Atlantic's articles will come with high-resolution photos that users can explore simply by tilting their iPhones, in the same way users of Paper, Facebook's well-designed but unpopular standalone news-reading app, can do. The articles may also include a variety of features, including annoying autoplay videos, image galleries, geotagged images with interactive maps, and the ability for users to like and comment on an article.
Instant Articles will appear for users who like a news organization's Facebook fan page or when one of their friends shares the article on their timeline. For example, if The New York Times, one of the first publishers that signed up to publish Instant Articles on Facebook, publishes a new story, people who like its page will see the story with the lightning bolt on their News Feed.
Publishers continue to make money by taking 100 percent of the revenue generated by ads they sell on the platform. If Facebook sells the ad space to its advertisers, it takes a price cut out of the publishers' earnings.
For Facebook, Instant Articles is a simple, ingenious way to get more users to stay on its platform and therefore ramp up the prices for its advertisements. However, the future of publications is not as clear-cut, as some publishers such as the Wall Street Journal are wary of giving up control of their content to Facebook and have begged off from Instant Articles.
However, while Facebook wants to build up a wall around its social network to keep the entire Internet inside it, other tech companies are creating their own solutions to create a more open Internet. More specifically, Google introduced its Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), an open-source initiative that aims to keep mobile pages load faster. The idea is when a news story, or a cat video or a series of images on the Web loads slowly, users get impatient and leave. Therefore, if Facebook and Google can make websites and apps load faster, users won't have to close them and keep staying on their platforms all day. Score one more for instant gratification.