“As quick as lightning” – a phrase most recently added to the long list of wonderful words used to describe Facebook. The social media giant has been heralded as a superior leader in its field, constantly achieving breakthroughs in the ever-changing digital landscape. This time, it is unveiling yet another creation that quickly became the talk of the town since its inception in May last year – the Facebook Instant Article. The upcoming March 12 is undoubtedly a highly-anticipated day because from this day on, everyone — mere mortals like you and I, not just huge publishers — will be allowed to post Instant Articles.
So what is Instant Article? For one, Facebook is definitely not following the exact “Harry Potter” outlook: all Instant Articles are marked with a small lightning icon at the top right-hand corner of the preview but it is not as loud as the scar on the boy-who-lived – users might have missed it and thought it was a regular post. Other than that, the preview of the article is pretty much the same. It is only upon clicking on the article that people might sense the difference; an Instant Article loads 10 times faster than a normal post, The whole article will be presented in literally a blink of the eye. How does this work you may ask? In Facebook’s words: it is a HTML5 document that uses a standardised marked up language, “enabling automated publication of an entire content feed at scale”. Instead of being linked to the publisher’s site, articles can now be read directly on Facebook.
Besides the massive benefit of convenience and rapid loading time, other features to look forward to include the enabling of rich media, photo and video-panning, and embedded audio captions. As a publishing tool, Instant Article did not only change the concept of digital publishing in terms of loading time possibilities but it positively impacts the quality and content of articles as well.
As of today, Instant Article is a comprehensive tool that publishers should use – it gets to keep 100% of the revenue they sell for Instant Article and even get a 30% cut if they allow Facebook to sell its unsold inventory. Judging from how much traffic Facebook has, publishing articles that users will not dread to open due to the possibility of long loading time will surely be a boon for publishers. They can take control over their own Instant Articles too, as Facebook mentioned. For now, maybe, Facebook has been changing its strategies regularly and who knows when it will do so for partnerships with publishers. Publishers should make the best out of Instant Article but be mindful of not being too dependent on it or even change their whole strategy to fit Instant Article publishing. In other words, to keep both eyes wide open.
The recent collaboration with WordPress has unveiled that WordPress Plugins can be downloaded for free — rejoice, Singapore! — to create Instant Articles with minimum difficulty. From our experience, this process still has much room for improvements and simplification though. Users familiar with the usual wordpress.com have to export their content to wordpress.org in which the Plugin can be found and this process requires creating databases and a good hosting company. Technical expertise is still needed; if you are unfamiliar with words like RSS Feed, MySQL, MariaDB, etc, this might prove to be a rather painful (but enlightening) journey.
Whilst Facebook is not the pioneer in article-sharing and is definitely not the the first ever publishing tool, it is doing what it always does best – to revolutionise and lead. Just as how it redefined engagement on social media, Facebook is now changing the idea of online publishing; following the usual trend, there will be an observation similar to what we will call “monopolisation”. Facebook has delved deeper into the realm of publishing and it has shown its full commitment to expand the possibilities of article sharing and reading. Despite a gentle rollout, Facebook has and will continue to create more mind-blowing breakthroughs with Instant Article, and change the digital environment, Facebook-style.