First Click: The inevitability of Facebook instant articles

May 13th, 2015

How long are you willing to wait for a web page to load?

Facebook claims that articles posted to its site typically take about 8 seconds to load on mobile devices. An oft-cited 2004 study suggests that a tolerable wait time is approximately 2 seconds. Google tells developers that anything longer than 1 second will “cause the user to interrupt their flow of thought, creating a poor experience.” Another study says that just 21 percent of modern websites load in less than 4 seconds on a smartphone, and 32 percent require between 8 and 48 seconds.

Facebook says its new Instant Articles load “as much as ten times faster than standard mobile web articles.” That’s 0.8 seconds on average making it a hell of a lot more instant than the antiquated definition that gave us “instant” Polaroids and Quaker oatmeal. Facebook achieves this by hosting the articles on its own servers.

For the Facebook user, the benefit is clear: get the stories they're already clicking on faster. For publishers though, it’s fraught with risk as they relinquish the distribution platform in order to meet readers where they are. It’s a return to Aol’s walled garden only with Zuck as its topiarist. Tellingly, launch partners like the New York Times, National Geographic and The Guardian are calling it an "experiment" a "test" or both; while Facebook simply calls it a new product.

As my colleague Casey Newton astutely points out, “Perhaps the most important thing to note about Facebook’s instant articles is that they feel inevitable. Content hosted on apps rather than websites isn’t the future of media — it’s the present.” And it feels like someone just stepped on the accelerator.

Five stories to start your day

  1. Facebook's instant articles arrive to speed up the News Feed

    Instant articles will be available from nine publishers starting at 10 a.m. ET: the Times, BuzzFeed, The Atlantic, National Geographic, NBC News, The Guardian, BBC News, and Germany’s Bild and Der Spiegel. For now, you’ll only be able to see them on the iOS version of Facebook’s app; an Android version is forthcoming.

  2. Samsung answers the Apple Watch Digital Crown with a rotating, round bezel

    The Next Gear, as it's referred to in developer materials, will have a 2G data connection, GPS, and a slew of sensors including an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a pressure sensor, and a heartbeat monitor. The watch will have a metal frame with a 1.18-inch 360 x 360 display at 305ppi. But the most stand-out feature is what surrounds that display: a "rotating bezel" used to navigate the interface.

  3. Now you can use emoji to order pizza

    Twenty minutes later, there's a knock at the door. Smiling, you scroll through your phone's keyboard for the door emoji. You can't find it. There is no door emoji, no Twitter account to send it to in order to get someone to open your door, no startup to solve this particular problem. Not yet. From your couch, you howl.

  4. Californian Senate honors Kendrick Lamar as a 'generational icon'

    Kendrick Lamar is a platinum-selling artist, a leading light of hip-hop, and a cultural icon. He's also, thanks to the California State Senate, an official icon. Earlier this week the government body declared Lamar a "Generational Icon" for his artistic, charitable, and community efforts. In recognition of his work, the rapper was invited onto the Senate floor to speak and receive an oversized framed document.

  5. Listen to every single one of Michael Jackson's grunts, squeals, and yelps

    Michael Jackson sure liked grunting. The king of pop peppered his songs with hundreds of moans, groans, squeals, and yelps. During his songs, the sounds make sense — they act like percussion, putting end-points on dance moves and choruses. Outside of the songs, isolated from the backing music, well... listen for yourself.

Lex Birder of the day