Facebook has launched it’s new news initiative ‘Instant Articles’ in the U.S this week, and has agreed new partnerships with the BBC, the Guardian, Bild and Spiegel to trial the idea on this side of the Atlantic, from the summer onwards.
Instant Articles was greeted with contained enthusiasm by the Guardian; >“It is great to see Facebook trialling new ways for quality journalism to flourish on mobile,” said Tony Danker, international director for Guardian News & Media, publisher of the Guardian and Observer. “The Guardian is keen to test how the new platform can provide an even more engaging experience for our readers.”
The Pew Research Center recently published a report which found that 48% of Americans polled already find news through Facebook. Instant Article will undeniably provide a slicker way to get interactive material onto users hands, but critics are worried that this is another move by Facebook to control an even bigger slice of the web. Rory Cellan-Jones describes the reason for the fear expressed by some news organisations whilst never the less feeling compelled to interact with the dominant force. >‘…these days media groups fear the mechanics behind Facebook’s newsfeed in the same way that small businesses have nightmares about tweaks in the Google search algorithm. They have watched their traffic from the social network ebb and flow with every change - one day your stories can be popping up all over everybody’s timelines, the next they have disappeared without trace’.
The New York Times is reporting a good deal of caution on the sides of both media organisations and Facebook as the first US articles were released; >‘BuzzFeed’s first offering was a list titled “13 Steps to Instantly Improve Your Day.” National Geographic presented an article on breeding a hardier bee, with pictures and videos that revealed the insects in minute detail. The New York Times chose a visually rich article about a Brazilian gymnast turned aerial skier. The Atlantic chose a long magazine report about the death penalty. It is not clear when the first batch of articles will be succeeded by a more regular stream of offerings from the publishers. Though the news organizations retain control over which articles go onto the service, Facebook will decide when it will begin running full force’.
Mashable reports that news organisations whose revenue depend on selling advertising are anxious that users who read their articles on Facebook won’t be driven to leave the platform and follow further articles on their own pages. Quoting the late David Carr of the NY Times they say; >‘Facebook in this situation “is a bit like that big dog galloping toward you in the park. More often than not, it’s hard to tell whether he wants to play with you or eat you.” Media publishers could conceivably just forgo Facebook’s media platform (if it opens widely). But Facebook has an ace up its sleeve. It has already shown that putting content into its native applications can lead to an audience that makes its previous referrals look tame in comparison’.