Could Floods of Instant Articles Corrupt the Facebook User Experience?

Beginning in April, Facebook is going to allow any publisher to upload content via Instant Articles, its mobile-optimized content format . Until now, the platform has been in beta with a small number of partners who had apparently had good response.

Under the new system, publishers can sell their own ads or allow Facebook to sell ads for them for a 30% rev share. We don’t imagine publishers will race to let Facebook sell their ads, because then they’d be giving up too much power to the “walled garden,” and since nothing lasts forever, it doesn’t make sense for publishers to dismantle their entire ad sales function to make a third less revenue and then find out two years from now that Facebook has changed the rules (see Twitter).

Some publishers still worry that one day Facebook might seek to take a cut of all revenue generated by Instant Articles. Facebook attempts to reassure them by saying that wouldn’t be in the platform’s best interest, since it wants users to have a faster newsfeed and in order to make that happen, Facebook wants to have as many Instant Articles uploaded as possible. Is that what consumers want, however?

On the Facebook Developer pages, publishers are told how to upload Instant Articles direct from their existing Content Management System. Although this sounds simple, it requires knowledge of HTML5, and some technical skills small publishers may not have. They could, however, be saved if a large CMS like WordPress created plugins for this purpose, or even integrated support for Instant Articles into its next release.

Since Google is also doing something like this with its AMP pages, we’ll have to sit back and see which standard (if any) emerges as dominant.

In the mean time, as an advertiser, you might want to think twice about enabling some of the features Instant Articles makes possible, because they are the ones IAB is recommending against, such as autoplay video:

Instant Articles isn’t just about delivering a fast experience — it also extends the possibilities for interactive articles on mobile phones with new features like autoplay video, audio captions, and interactive maps using simple HTML5 tags.

More important, brands need to stand back and see how consumers react to Facebook Instant Articles, lest they become so overwhelming in the news feed that users decide to block them. Facebook has traditionally been a site on which only certain content is welcomed by users, and unless Facebook’s use case, connecting the world, evolves, visitors will still expect to see user generated content far outweigh commercial publications.