Facebook Instant Articles

It’s official, Facebook has just taken their first major step to become lords of the internet. Earlier this week Facebook launched Instant Articles, a new service where select publishers can have their articles published on Facebook’s platform. Facebook is claiming that this is all about loading times for content. By their measurement it takes about eight seconds for an external article to load on their platform. Facebook’s solution sounds simple enough, hosting content for publishers. But there’s a problem with this walled-garden approach, content creators will be at the mercy of Facebook and I can’t imagine putting my business future into their hands.

We, the developers, have a problem.

Seriously, Facebook is calling us all out loading times. Their stance is, “hey, you messed up, your sites are slow and we’re not waiting for you to fix it.” And their right. Most publishers websites are slow to load(I’m looking at you Forbes), a mess, and could care less about the user’s experience. They are usually highly optimized for serving ads and getting clicks.

We need to do better. Especially on mobile. A lot of developers I know are not even considering how to avoid their desktop code from loading on mobile. Or how to properly compress images. We’ve done a major disservice to the internet and Facebook is trying to take advantage of it.

And the amount of Javascript our websites are using now is insane. I mean, the latest release of WordPress is injecting Javascript to create emjoji icons in posts. We’ve lost site of what we should be focused on, the user. And instead we are constantly attempting to push the internet forward, leaving our users to figure it out.

The New AOL

Facebook is now pushing content creators to do it on their platform, allowing publishers to get 100% of the revenue if they sell the ad space, or a 70/30 split if Facebook sells it. While it seems like a great deal for content publishers, the problem is that this walled garden will provide massive lock-in. Right now it works because Facebook needs the publishers more than they need them, but down the road Facebook is going to be able to dictate to the content creators any thing they want.

My biggest fear is exclusivity. I don’t have a Facebook account. Will Facebook require exclusive rights at some point for the content published on their platform?

I think a big part of this is that Facebook doesn’t want users to leave their platform. I am curious the amount of time spent in app after clicking on an external link. Does Facebook gain a much higher level of user engagement?

Just like AOL back in the 90s, Facebook seems to be moving to a model where they are the internet. They will be able to push the content that they want, they will be able to dictate to the user what they see, and will increase their level of influence over the content.

We can fix this

That’s not they way it’s supposed to be. We are messing up, we are headed down a path that needs to get fixed. As developers we can help fix this problem.

The web should be open and freely accessible. Not locked behind someone’s walled-garden.

I’ve been obsessed with content creation and consumption lately. I’m curious of the impact we can have on how users interact with our context and how as designers and developers we can help create platforms that are engaging for creators and consumers of content.

So for now, let’s take a second look at the code we are writing. Test, test, and test for mobile users. Use compression when you can, and a CDN will go a long way to help us speed up the internet.

Facebook Instant Articles goes too far. Their interests are only focused on Facebook and ad revenue, not the content, and not the user.

    Related articles about Facebook Instant Articles:

  1. M.G. Siegler’s Thoughts – https://500ish.com/facebook-instant-karma-4a4bd4f3eca
  2. Pete Davies Notes – https://medium.com/@pete/notes-on-facebook-instant-articles-9daf2a7b8a94
  3. Daring Fireball – http://daringfireball.net/2015/05/facebook_instant_articles
  4. The Whip’s First Day Usage Statistics – http://blog.newswhip.com/index.php/2015/05/facebooks-instant-articles-on-day-one

About the author

Jesse Orndorff

The founder of Glean, an agency for change. Formerly Innovation Program Manager at DAI. He's now focused on building technology and startups that work on challenging issues and doing social good.

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Jesse Orndorff

The founder of Glean, an agency for change. Formerly Innovation Program Manager at DAI. He's now focused on building technology and startups that work on challenging issues and doing social good.

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