21 min

Facebook Instant Articles - May 2015

The first nine publishers to use Instant Articles :

  • [x] The New York Times
  • [x] National Geographic
  • BuzzFeed
  • [x] NBC
  • [x] The Atlantic
  • [x] The Guardian
  • [x] BBC
  • [x] Spiegel
  • Bild

This could be a reason why Facebook will rule the media landscape too.

Snapchat's Discovery is interesting, but the service does not have the reach of Facebook.

And I don't know what Twitter can do beyond the breaking news and discussion format that has been its forte for years.

Forget about the concerns by many media people and tech geeks, if the general audience enjoys Instant Articles, then the feature will expand to more publishers who won't have much of a choice but follow.

The media industry, especially the newspaper industry, brought this upon themselves with their failure to adapt and innovate.

Instant Articles is only a mobile app. I'm unsure why it would exist in any other format.

I still have a Facebook account that I rarely access. I was about to delete my account a few weeks ago, but I kept around because of the forthcoming Instant Articles feature. I installed the Snapchat app strictly for their Discovery media feature.

I do not, however, have the Facebook app installed on my iPhone.

I'm guessing that most users access Facebook on their phones, and most phone access is through the Facebook app.

Many media websites see most of their traffic now coming from mobile devices: tablets and phones. But most of the mobile traffic is from phones.

It makes sense that Instant Articles starts as a phone app. It might also be a tablet app. But what would be the point of supporting mobile web and desktop/laptop web?

Naturally, most of the geeks posting in the HN thread are bothered by Facebook and Instant Articles. Simple solution: don't use the site. Harder solution: create something better. Easiest of all solutions: whine.

The promotional video makes the stories look fascinating with the video and animations. And text still plays a big role, depending upon the publisher, of course. The samples look sharp. If that's how it works all the time, then I can see users (normal people) loving Instant Articles.

Walled garden, silo, whatever. Facebook has the intellectual horsepower to innovate new ways of disseminating information.

Not every project is a success at Facebook, but they keep hacking and trying. Instant Articles could eventually end up being a failure, but I doubt it. It will slowly grow more important over time.

Heck, Instant Articles could encourage more people to use Facebook more often. People like me.

Some people believe that Instant Articles will further hurt the web. Maybe, but the web began getting damaged years ago with bloated web designs that created slow, clunky, horrible user experiences.

Media sites would have functioned better with a plain, vanilla 1995 look with bare bones HTML. Add a smattering of CSS with media queries, and it would be possible to create small, lightweight, fast-loading web pages in 2015 that are still comfortable to read.

My test pages with NO JavaScript:

In my web apps, I use JavaScript in the browser only when I'm creating or updating a post with the JavaScript editor that I created by modifying code that provided a live preview for Textile markup. The editor came with split screen mode, which I kept, but I removed the live preview because it was annoyingly distracting. I also added a single-screen mode, full-screen mode, and reverse color mode (light on dark). I added auto-save with the option to change the auto-save interval. I added buttons for preview and save. I added keyboard shortcuts for many of the above functions. I'm updating this post with the JavaScript editor.

But in my web apps, I can also create and update a post by using the standard HTML textarea box. This is fine for quick-hitting activities.

My favorite view is the stream view with the postings displayed by modification date, youngest to oldest. Formatted or typical blog displays are nice, like what I use with my websites built with my Grebe code, such as ToledoWinter.com. The notes stream within my Grebe code and the stream displays for my Junco and Scaup apps, which contain notes and articles all display a very small HTML textarea box at the top of the site, so that I can easily add notes and links without first clicking a "post" or "create" link.

The point is that I like client-side JavaScript for logged-in dashboard functions like what's used with my Digital Ocean account. Their usage of JavaScript is elegant. It's not overdone. They don't use JavaScript just because they can. The JavaScript usage serves a purpose and makes administration of my droplet pleasant.

Ditto for my Fastmail.fm account, which is my favorite email service. I like Fastmail much more than Gmail and Yahoo. Fastmail's web app on desktop/laptop and especially on the phone work well. Again, elegant usage of JavaScript, CSS, etc. It's not bloated and overdone. I don't think that Fastmail offers a native app for phone, but that's fine with me because I like their web app for phone.

For content sites where I don't log into the site, I don't understand the misuse and overuse of client-side JavaScript. That's why I surf the web with JavaScript and other things disabled by default, thanks to the NoScripts plugin for Firefox.

I also don't care for the overuse of images on websites' homepages and irrelevant images on article pages. And huge images are unnecessary most of the time, since most readers are accessing the sites on phones.

Over the past few years, media sites have redesigned to be responsively designed in order to have one website that functions well on all devices. This is good. But unfortunately, many of these sites bog down older computers with too much code bloat. Single web pages are slow to load and have a size in the megs. Absurd.

And I don't understand why many responsively-designed websites display in such a tiny font size on phones. It's an uncomfortable reading experience. What numskull opined about the need for small font sizes on phones with responsive design?

My prefs for media homepages and article pages:

  • No JavaScript.
  • Minimal CSS if possible. This is hard to do.
  • Small images most of the time.
  • Useful images that are related to the article.
  • Homepage with a stream or feed view.
  • Don't break the back button or create an abnormal action with clicking the back button like taking me back to the top of the site instead of where I left off.
  • Don't break the right-click or open in a new tab function. This occurs way to often, and it's infuriating. Repulsive.
  • Don't break highlighting and copying text for excerpting.

Since 2012 or 2013, the web experience has grown increasingly frustrating, thanks to bloated, obnoxious designs caused by the misuse of JavaScript. It seems like website owners have intentionally created miserable web experiences across all screen sizes in order to convince people to use their native mobile apps.


I'm sure that the bad user experiences on newly-designed websites is unintentional. I'm guessing that many site owners, designers, and developers deploy what's currently popular because it uses cool technology even though the tech does not always improve the reading experience.

"The user experience sucks but that animation is cool." - pointy-haired media boss

Back to Instant Articles, the gnashing of teeth by media people can be addressed by simply choosing not to participate with Facebook. What's hard about that?

It's still a choice. 10 to 15 years ago, the media industry choose to act slowly, regarding the rapidly changing digital information landscape.

It's a waste of time to complain that NatGeo, NYTimes, BuzzFeed, and others will use Instant Articles.

But over time as more media sites see the success of others using Instant Articles, then the sites on the sidelines will participate.

Wait three months, six months, a year, two years. Check back in May 2017 to see what's happening.


Facebook clearly plays an important role as a gatekeeper to news. Nearly half of American Internet users said they got news about politics and government on Facebook during the course of a week, almost as many as got such news from local television, according to a survey last year by the Pew Research Center.

That's higher than I realized. I thought a study within the past year stated that only a small percentage went to Facebook for news. I guess being subjected to news links is different from the intent of using Facebook to get news.


The launch of Instant Articles could be seen as a nail in the coffin for the idea of an open, browser-based mobile web.

I definitely prefer a browser-based open web, including on mobile, but when obnoxious web experiences are created, this leads to Facebook innovating something new to improve the user experience.

I don't blame Facebook. I blame other site owners for building bloated, clunky websites over the past few years.

"the open web isn't well-suited for mobile devices"

"The mobile web is tough to navigate."

True for poorly-designed websites. Bloated and clunky with unnecessary JavaScript.

For pleasantly designed websites that are kept simple, the web works well on mobile, and the mobile web is easy to navigate.

Simplify and make the experience comfortable. Focus on the individual article page. Strip it down to the bare parts or skeleton:

  • article header:
    • title
    • maybe the author
    • maybe the created and updated dates
  • article body:
    • obviously, the content.
  • article footer:
    • maybe the author
    • maybe the created and updated dates
    • maybe a way to contact the author
    • maybe a way to share the article

Nothing else is needed on the page, except for a "Home" link, located in the upper left or upper right corner of the page.

Use little to nothing in the web site footer area of the article page.

Save all of the website header, navigation, and footer info and links for the home page. Why repeat all the crap on the article pages?

Keep the article pages as lightweight and simple as possible. Let the negative space shine.

Embedded images and videos that are part of the article body will get loaded in more slowly than the text, but at least the text displays quickly, especially if the article page is pulled from cache.

But media sites add dozens of trackers and other "things" to a single article page. It's offensive.


If Facebook’s Instant Article justification gets news orgs to care about speed/webperf, good for Facebook.


The type of people using Facebook for their news (which is apparently everyone but us) don’t care which publication they’re getting it from.

About David Weiner: "Executive Editor and Creative Director @Digg."

I don't understand Weiner's point.

I do know that media people seem to enjoy Twitter more than Facebook.

HN comment https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9538692

I for one am hoping that this catches on, walled garden or not I'd rather spend my time reading content on an interface that I don't have to fight against (e.g. full screen overlay ads with a tiny x to close) and I trust facebook to build that better than anyone else.

I'm also surprised publishers are going along with it though, it seems a little ironic. The only reason this product is interesting is because so many mobile articles today have horrible UIs. Native views will probably be nicer anyway but publishers could mostly fix this right now if they were willing to give up my accidental ad clicks. But instead they need someone like facebook to save them from themselves in order to make their content consumable again.

10:57 a.m., Wed, May 13, 2015 post at

Welcome! To see these stories in the Instant Articles format, you must be on the latest version of the Facebook app for iPhone.

I guess that at the moment, one does not need to follow the media orgs that are currently publishing to Instant Articles. Going to the Instant Articles Facebook page works.

As of 12:22 p.m. EDT, May 13, 2015, only five IA articles exist at the moment on the Instant Articles Facebook page. The page contains 4238 likes.


Update 8.48am ET: A Facebook engineer and a Facebook spokesperson earlier this morning told Quartz that articles will appear on facebook.com/instantarticles and whether it appears on the publishers’ Facebook page is up to the publisher. But the first “instant article,” from the New York Times, is now live, and it is available only on facebook.com/nytimes, not facebook.com/instantarticles. Another Facebook spokesperson has written to say “We are just sharing the articles there as an easy place for people interested in the product to find them. But the main distribution is on the publisher’s own pages.” Nonetheless, the native articles are, for the moment, available only on iPhone.

Update 9.03am ET: A third Facebook spokesperson has written in to say that no content is exclusive to Facebook. All articles will be published on the original website, on the publishers’ Facebook page, and on instant articles.

A Facebook spokesperson told Quartz it is up to each of its news partners to decide whether to post their native content to Facebook’s instant articles page alone or in addition to their own Facebook pages.

Moreover, it is also up to the publishers to decide whether the articles they post to Facebook are exclusive to the social network or also published on their own websites. Indeed, the spokesperson said the answer to most questions about how this will work is: “It’s up to the publisher.”

Within the Facebook iPhone app, I can view the immersive IA articles, such as the one listed below, which are also available as standard web articles on the publishers' respective websites.

Thus far, the few Instant Articles that I have viewed were longform articles that combine photos, video, and additional audio. NT Times Snow Fall influence?

How long does it take for a publisher to create a story that's fit for Instant Articles? If it's only a once-in-a-while thing for each publisher, then it may not have wide appeal among users.

It could be that these first few stories were specially done for the rollout.

More Instant Articles :


Simple and Scalable

Using existing production tools and standard markup language, you can publish any type of article, from daily news coverage to longform features. Harness standard HTML and RSS feeds to scale entire content libraries in the Instant Articles format and provide a fast, interactive experience for all of your readers on Facebook.


Compare and contrast: Facebook instant articles vs Twitter link

It's a video, showing two phones opening the content.

Problem is, that this has nothing to do with comparing Facebook to Twitter. You get the same result if you click on any of the dozens of news articles on Facebook that are not designed to be Instant Articles.

Only a few Instant Articles have been created, compared to the dozens of "regular" article links posted to Facebook by the publishers who got first access to Instant Articles.

The above tweet, video, and discussion were misplaced. Out of context. It's not like every article from the NY Times, NatGeo, etc are designed to for Instant Articles. It would be cool if they were, but that's not now.

Click any other NY Times article link on Facebook, and it takes 5 to 10 seconds to load, just like the same link at Twitter. Bad comparison and point by the dude above.


Some people have rightly pointed out that this wasn’t quite a fair test. I hadn’t realised one of my friend’s phones was on wi-fi and the other on 3G. It’s also comparing two completely different methods of content loading. Nonetheless, I think it still stands as an illustration of two different user experiences.

In my opinion, the author was trying to show that Twitter is woeful compared to Facebook. His comparison was invalid because the same slow-loading time occurs with any non-IA article link, contained within Facebook.

He should have compared links only within Facebook. Or made the point of the comparison about page loading times and not Facebook vs Twitter.

The other issue is the lack of content on Day 3 in Instant Articles. This is hardly a game-changer if content is infrequently created for IA.

So Facebook has created a beautiful mobile product. You can see it’s been made by the team behind its Paper app. There’s autoplaying videos, clever tilting galleries, sliding galleries, audio picture galleries. In short, lots of shiny toys to get publishers excited. It reminded me a little of the Shorthand platform which publishers have been dabbling with to produce premium long reads.

Okay, but how much effort is required of the publisher to produce content that takes advantage of the new Facebook mobile app features?

Resource allocation for publishers. To create an IA article that looks and acts similar to the NatGeo bee IA, then how many people are needed? How much time? Total labor cost?

How long did it take each publisher to create their initial Instant Articles?

... up to two thirds of referrals to news websites come from Facebook. It’s the biggest news platform around.

As of 8:23 a.m., Fri, May 15, 2015, the Facebook Instant Articles page contains 11,255 likes.

And as of this morning, May 15, no new Instant Articles have been posted to this Facebook page, since the initials ones posted on Wed, May 13.

If publishers only create one IA per week or less often, well then the initiative may have little impact. It probably takes too long to create and format a story for IA.

But it's early. When more publishers are allowed in, then users will experience the format more often even if each publisher infrequently creates an IA.

From what little I know about IA, I don't think that an article needs to be specially formatted to be a part of IA.

I think that a simple, plain text article can work. The point being that it loads nearly instantly within the mobile app.

If true, I wonder why the publishers are not sharing more content with IA.

Not every story needs to be Skyfall-like with embedded audio, image slideshows, video, animations, etc.


But smaller publications, including local news sources, may have an opportunity to try Instant Articles for themselves soon. “We plan to work closely with our publishing partners to gather feedback and make improvements with a goal to scale this to local news publishers in the coming months,” Justin Osofsky, Facebook’s vice president for media partnerships, told CJR in a statement today.

This is odd thinking:

“We’re watching it intensely,” Josh Awtry, editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times and The Greenville News, said via email. “As much as I like to be an early adopter, this is one I’m OK to hang back and watch for a bit.”

The newspaper industry has always had a wait-and-see attitude, which has harmed the industry.

Awtry’s thoughts about both the opportunities to reach a larger audience and the reasons to be wary about relinquishing control mirrored much of the broader media debate.

“I don’t want to repeat any mistakes we made in the ’90s, and this might eerily echo those discussions,” he says. “Back then, we were so nervous about giving up end-to-end ownership of our distribution platform—the printed paper— that our shift to digital was slow and without innovation. Ultimately, we had to decide whether we were in the content business or the distribution business, and, for the most part, we settled on the latter.”

On the other hand, there is reason to worry that a content producer who becomes too reliant on one distributor can lose whatever leverage it had. “Those terms sound palatable today, but once we start placing more of our eggs into that basket, the power of our own channels and brands deteriorate,” Awtry added. “Once that happens, and an outside vendor has a lock on the primary method in which we reach people, those terms could change—and we’d be powerless to stop it.”

Of course, many news sites—local and otherwise—already depend on Facebook referrals for an outsized share of their traffic. That raises the possibility that, if Instant Articles expands, some outlets may feel little choice to participate, if only to preserve their share of Facebook’s audience. “If enough partners use Instant, and if there is enough good Instant content to read, [Facebook] users will begin to regard linked-out stories as weird slow garbage that should Not Be Clicked,” wrote The Awl’s John Herrman, describing one potential outcome.

The Texas Tribune is generally seen as the most successful of the crop of state and local nonprofit news sites that has sprung up in recent years. Tim Griggs, the Tribune’s publisher and chief operating officer, said in an email that “Instant Articles is pretty damn interesting to us.”

“Why? Unlike some sites, who depend so heavily on driving traffic for advertising and for subscriber acquisition, we’re very much in brand-building and growth mode,” he said. “It’s not that eyeballs to our site aren’t important — they most certainly are — but we’re not a big scale CPM-based advertising medium, nor are we entirely dependent on paid subscribers…. Part of our business and journalistic M.O. is reaching people where they are.”

“If partnering with Facebook helps extend our reach — particularly if it arms us with data we wouldn’t otherwise have — I’m potentially all for it,” Griggs said.

Mon, May 18, 2015

As of this morning, no new Instant Articles were listed on the IA Facebook page. Weak.

#mobile - #app - #media - #socialmedia

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