The gradual introduction of Facebook's fast-loading Instant Articles format is about to speed up. The company said today that beginning April 12th, all publishers will be able to create articles using the format. The move, which coincides with the upcoming F8 developer conference, is likely to increase pressure on publishers to offer their stories in the format lest they lose an advantage over their peers.
The format loads articles inside the Facebook app more quickly than traditional links by stripping out most of the code and pre-fetching stories when you approach them in the News Feed. Publishers make money by selling ads inside the stories, which they can either do themselves or let Facebook handle (in exchange for a 30 percent cut of the revenue.) When Facebook introduced the format last year, it triggered an arms race of sorts among other big tech platforms, with Google and Apple both following suit with fast-loading formats of their own.
An arms race among platforms and publishers
Instant Articles launched with a small handful of publishers but has soon grown to include hundreds more, including Vox Media, parent company of The Verge. (The Verge will be available in the format "soon," I'm told.) "Our goal is to make this work whether you're BuzzFeed and the New York Times or you're a local newspaper or a small blog," says Josh Roberts, product manager for Instant Articles. The initial response to Instant Articles has been positive, Roberts says, with users more likely to click and share articles that use the format. That means that they're likely to show up earlier in users News Feeds, driving more traffic to publishers' sites.
Last year, some publishers openly worried that Facebook would eventually seek to take a cut of all revenue generated from Instant Articles. But Facebook says that would work against its goal of making as many articles "instant" as possible. More Instant Articles means a better News Feed, and the ad business Facebook built inside the News Feed is hugely lucrative. "The bottom line is that if this doesn't work for publishers, it doesn't work — and we know that," Roberts says. "We're committed to being a good partner here."
Independent blogs and newspapers are still unlikely to create Instant Article feeds of their own. While Facebook says they have worked to simplify the process, creating what amounts to a custom RSS feed with unique HTML-like elements still requires a level of technical expertise that many publishers still lack. More interesting would be if publishing platforms like WordPress, Medium, or Tumblr enable the automatic posting of Instant Articles to Facebook. Until then, publishers interested in developing for the format can start reading up on how they're created.