Facebook Instant Articles: A Slippery Slope For Google To Do The Same, Hurting The Web?
Facebook's pitch to host publisher content sounds great for improving user experience. But if Google follows in doing the same thing, it might not so great for the web.
Today, Facebook announced Instant Articles, a way for publishers to post stories directly on Facebook. We’ve known this would be coming, and there’s been some debate over whether it’s good or bad. But I haven’t seen that extended to what would happen if Google follows Facebook’s lead. It could, potentially causing the web to be swallowed up by two gatekeeping giants.
Introducing Google Instant Results
Allow me to demonstrate how easily Google could mimic Facebook. Here’s the top part of Facebook’s press release announcing the move. All I’ve done is replace the word “Facebook” with Google and made a few other small changes:
Today we’re excited to introduce Instant Results
Articles, a new product for publishers to create fast, interactive pages articleson Google
As more people get their information
newson mobile devices, we want to make the experience faster and richer on Google sharea lot of information articleson Google storiestake an average of eightseconds to load, by far theslower than single content type onGoogle Articlesmakes the reading experience asmuch as ten timesfaster than standard mobile web articles.
Along with a faster experience, Instant Results
Articlesintroduces a suite of interactive features that allow publishers to bring their stories to life in new ways. Zoom in and explore high-resolution photos by tilting your phone. Watch auto-play videos come alive as you scroll through stories. Explore interactive maps, listen to audio captions, and even like and comment on individual parts of an article in-line.
We designed Instant Results
Articlesto give publishers control over their stories, brand experience and monetization opportunities. Publishers can sell ads in their articles and keep the revenue, or they can choose to use Google AdSense Facebook’s Audience Networkto monetize unsold inventory. Publishers will also have the ability to track data and traffic through comScore and other analytics tools.
“Fundamentally, this is a tool that enables publishers to provide a better experience for their readers on Google
Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox. “Instant Results Articleslets them deliver fast, interactive articles while maintaining control of their content and business models.”
Paved With Good Intentions
I understand that Facebook has good reasons to offer Instant Articles. I’ve been frustrated many times waiting for some article to load, after clicking on a link at Facebook. It even happened to me today. I gave up waiting for the article to load. For this and other reasons, it also makes sense for publishers, at least in the short term.
Some do worry the move could cause publishers already too dependent on Facebook and its fickle News Feed algorithm to grow even more so. That’s a valid concern. But the bigger concern to me is that having a giant like Facebook suck so much content effectively within its walled garden gives license for that other giant, Google, to do the same.
Facebook’s Move Enables Google
Every argument Facebook has made for this program, Google could make as equally valid. Facebook’s move — which is backed initially by major publishers including Axel Springer’s Bild, will enable Google to have exactly the same type of program, if it wants. That’s especially ironic when Axel Springer is so critical of Google just linking to its content. How’s it going to feel when Google wants to actually host that content?
Google, of course, already hosts some publisher content now, most notably via YouTube. Google Currents, which I doubt few even remember, is closer to what Facebook is doing. But potentially, Google could leverage Facebook’s move to have a program where anyone listed in its search results has an option to host their content right on Google.
Because speed. Because user experience. Because interactive maps, zooming video, etc.
Despite all those good reasons, I worry what it means when the free and independent web is mirrored within the walled gardens of two giants, Facebook and Google.
Healthy Evolution Or Seismic Shift?
I’m not one of those. I think you want a place you own and control in addition to how you outreach. Maybe we’re overdue for textual content to be hosted offsite in the way we’re used to with images and video, especially if ads can be embedded. Maybe the clickthrough to content is finally getting its inevitable death.
But my gut says if we eventually have both Facebook and Google offering to host everything in the name of speed and user experience, that’s not a good thing. Maybe I’ll be wrong.