After more than a month of testing in public beta, Facebook's Instant Articles features is now available for users with the Facebook for Android app. With the feature rolled out for iOS users in late October, Facebook said it now has a way for publishers to optimize content delivery "to hundreds of millions of people daily across the two most popular mobile platforms in the world."
Announced earlier this year, Instant Articles allows publishers to provide fast-loading content to readers directly from Facebook without sacrificing opportunities for ad revenue. The platform enables articles and other content -- indicated as Instant Articles by a lightning bolt icon that appears at the top right on a News Feed feature -- to load up to 10 times more quickly than via standard mobile Web browsing, Facebook said.
As of this week more than 350 publishers from around the world are participating, with more than 100 publishing content via the platform on a daily basis, said product manager Michael Reckhow in a post published yesterday on Facebook's Media blog.
More Publishers 'Joining Daily'
Reports had surfaced last month that Facebook was exploring new advertising options after some potential publisher partners complained about limitations imposed on the numbers and types of ads allowed with Instant Articles. Some early users were already reporting reduced revenues from content published via the platform on Facebook, according to a November 11 article in the Wall Street Journal.
Instant Articles partners to date include major news and content sources ranging from China Daily, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Huffington Post Brazil and India Today to The New York Times, The Guardian, Spiegel, Haaretz and Qatar's Al Jazeera English, Reckhow said.
And more publishers are joining every day from across the globe. "We're thrilled to collaborate with our partners in each of these regions, and we will continue to advance the product based on their feedback," Reckhow added.
Publishing's 'New Normal a Ways Off'
In the wake of the massive disruption to traditional publishing business models brought by Web-based and mobile news, as well as blogging and alternative content sources, a number of solutions have been floated by tech companies such as Facebook, Google, Flipboard and others.
Google, for example, is pinning its publishing optimization ambitions on AMP, its open source initiative built on mobile-friendly HTML tags. The company is currently testing AMP, which stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages, with a small group of partners and said it expects to launch a more widely available version in early 2016.
Meanwhile, the content reading app Flipboard, which calls itself "the world's most popular personal magazine," announced today that publisher partners will now be able to use new profile pages to create "a single destination for their stories, news feeds and custom Flipboard Magazines." It also introduced a feature called "End Cards" that recommends three to five other articles from a publisher at the end of a story.
"Initial tests of the new End Cards [have] shown that 15 percent of readers who see an End Card continue on and open another story," according to Flipboard.
Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, a journalism education organization, told us that the latest news about Instant Articles was not unexpected.
"But that together with Google AMP, the Flipboard tuneup and other developments indicate broad acceptance in the publishing community of making their content available on platforms they do not control," Edmonds said. "The audience-building positives outweigh the negatives."
Although legacy news publishers continue to work on finding new revenues streams, with the exception of some special cases like The New York Times, no one has reached the crossover point yet, he added.
In other words, the new normal is a ways off, Edmonds said. "The alternate platform boom and the rise of ad blocking this year are good examples of pop-up challenges that further complicate a multi-year transformation effort," he said.