Your Facebook Feed Just Changed (Again)

Photo: Courtesy Facebook.
Your favorite articles could start looking different on Facebook. Today, the company unveiled Facebook Instant, a solution for publishers to create interactive content for Facebook's mobile audience that's beautiful and loads quickly.

The latter is actually a big issue: Right now, the average article you click from Facebook's app takes eight seconds to load — an eternity in mobile years. Google found many users click away after only 400 milliseconds of a loading delay, so you can only imagine how often people are attempting to read, and quickly abandoning, articles from Facebook's apps. This is problematic for Facebook (which wants to keep you in its ecosystem for as long as possible) and for publishers (who want your eyeballs on their content). 

But, in addition to being speedier, Instant also makes these articles more visually appealing, with full-screen images that you can explore by tilting your phone and auto-play videos that engage as you scroll downwards. 

Instant actually isn't Facebook's first play at making articles on its platform more appealing. The social network launched an attractive story-sharing app called Paper in early 2014. However, the standalone app doesn't seem to have garnered much traction. Facebook is likely rolling some of what it learned from that app into this new platform. With Instant, publishers create posts using their own technologies, and then Facebook transforms those stories to be compatible with its app. What do publishers stand to gain? Increased engagement from readers, a new platform to tell stories on, and another way to gain readership.

Facebook Instant is initially launching with nine partners: The Atlantic, The Guardian, The New York Times, National Geographic, NBC, BBC News, BuzzFeed, Spiegel, and Bild. "We want to fish for new users in the ponds where they are,” Mark Thompson, president and CEO of The New York Times Company said. The Times rolled out its first Instant post today.

One other very interesting feature of Facebook Instant: the ability to like and comment on individual parts of an article in-line. You see people do this on Twitter all the time, posting a screenshot of a paragraph or highlighted text (a trend called screenshorting). While this isn't quite the same thing, it does offer a more granular level of commentary than is traditionally seen in online or mobile pieces. 

Facebook Instant articles are sure to start appearing more and more in your newsfeed: With 1.25 billion users and generous revenue terms, why wouldn't a media company want to take advantage? All you have to do is sell a little bit more of your soul to Facebook. Don't worry, it won't turn its back on you in a few months' time. 
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