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.
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