Facebook has just launched a new service called Instant Articles, which allows media organisations to create interactive pieces hosted on Facebook's servers and embedded in your news feed.
The new service was apparently born out of a desire for speed. Facebook claims that news articles take an average of eight seconds to load from its mobile app — said in a press release to be "by far the slowest single content type on Facebook". Zuckerberg & Co decided the obvious solution was to host the content themselves, a step which they claim speeds up load times by ten times.
That's been enough to convince some big names to join in. As of today, the Times, BuzzFeed, The Atlantic, National Geographic, NBC News, The Guardian, BBC News, and Germany's Bild and Der Spiegel will all be posting articles on Facebook via Instant Articles. Initially only iOS users will see them, but the service is said to land on Android soon.
What will they look like? As you zip through your feed many won't look dramatically different, though some will have wizzy video covers that play as you scroll. But within the articles themselves, Facebook promises "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."
According to The Verge the experience is slick — thanks mainly to the fact that the story is pre-loaded as you scroll towards it, so that it's ready to pounce when you tap to read. The service also strips out much of the advertising you see on many of the websites that are involved (presumably instead leaning on Facebook's ad savvy elsewhere to generate the cold, hard cash). The result, in theory, is a slick media experience that doesn't require heading to another, independent website.
Of course, the big question is how this changes the media landscape. When the content of some of the biggest news publishers on the planet is hosted on Zuckerberg's servers, why need you ever leave the lovely blue walled garden that is Facebook? It remains to be seen how successful the experiment will be, of course — but if it does perform as well as Facebook hopes, publishers could well finds themselves even more reliant on a service they have little control over. [Facebook]