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Facebook Inc. Attempts to Woo Publishers With "Instant Articles"

By Daniel Sparks - May 13, 2015 at 5:00PM

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When it comes to reading articles in the Facebook app, say goodbye to slow load times and say hello to interactive features.

Did you see an article from National Geographic, Buzzfeed, The New York Times, or NBC News on Facebook (META -0.97%) this week? You may have just seen a glimpse of the social network's new push to get publishers to use Facebook as a publishing platform more often. Called "Instant Articles," the new product for publishers enables fast loading and an interactive experience.

Facebook Instant Article. Image source: Facebook

Instant articles
Facebook's Instant Articles product will roll out gradually, initially being piloted by only a handful of major publishers.

With Instant Articles, Facebook is giving publishers a more capable tool to share their content. The new feature introduces highly interactive ways for readers to consume content, including panning across a high-resolution photo by simply tilting a smartphone, built-in auto-play videos, audio captions, interactive maps, and multiple parts of articles with "likes" and comments enabled.

"We designed Instant Articles to give publishers control over their stories, brand experience and monetization opportunities," said Facebook product manager Michael Reckhow in a company blog post on Tuesday. 

Key to getting publishers onboard with the new product, Facebook will give them the ability to sell ads in their articles while still keeping their revenue.

Facebook's appetite to appeal to publishers has been clear for some time now. In early 2014, Facebook unveiled Paper, an app designed to curate news for Facebook users. Looking even further into the past, in March 2013, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said one of the major thoughts behind the company's News Feed redesign was that it wants to "give everyone in the world the best possible personalized newspaper we can."

Why "instant" matters
Beyond the new features for publishers to share news, collect revenue, and track data, the advantage of instantaneous loading in this new tool shouldn't be underestimated. Instant loading is a huge step up for publishers from the average load time before.

Facebook Instant Article. Image source: Facebook

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.

Facebook's Instant Articles marks a clear attempt by Zuckerberg & Co. to woo publishers into making formidable investments on the Facebook platform, which boasts 1.44 billion monthly active users. While the terms for Instant Articles don't appear to be set up to produce meaningful revenue for Facebook today, the extra in-app user time the new product could lead to has potential to pay off indirectly by leading to more ad clicks where Facebook collects more revenue. And, down the road, Facebook could easily opt to take a higher cut of ad revenue sourced from these articles.

While the product's ramp will initially be slow, the favorable terms for publishers and the upside for Facebook in potentially more in-app user time suggests that this product could be a win-win combination for both Facebook and publishers. Don't be surprised if Instant Articles eventually becomes one of the social network's most important tools.

Daniel Sparks owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Facebook. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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