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And now here's the news... from Facebook

Barry Collins
13 May 2015
Facebook Instant Article
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Instant Articles to deliver stories from BBC and others straight into your Facebook news feed

Facebook is attempting to stop people from leaving its app by reformatting news articles to make them easier on the eye and load without delay. Dubbed Instant Articles, the initiative sees Facebook link up with nine major news providers, including the BBC and The Guardian.

Instant Articles is a recognition that most people now get their news from mobile devices, and that even sites optimised for smartphones aren't always fast enough at delivering content. "People share a lot of articles on Facebook, particularly on our mobile app," writes Michael Reckhow, product manager for Instant Articles, on the Facebook blog. "To date, however, these stories take an average of eight seconds to load, by far the slowest single content type on Facebook."

Slow loading links increase the likelihood that users will simply give up and close the Facebook app, which is clearly bad for business, so Facebook is working with the news organisations to reformat their stories within Facebook itself. Reckhow claims Instant Articles will make "the reading experience" (whatever that means) up to ten times faster than standard mobile web articles.

Despite the speed promises, Instant Articles are by no means merely stripped-down versions of regular news articles. In fact, they can include multimedia features that often aren't available on mobile news sites, such as zoomable videos, high-resolution photos that can be panned through by tilting the phone, and rotating maps - all of which are embedded into the news article.

Facebook claims it requires minimal effort on the news publisher's part to reformat their stories for Instant Articles, and the social network will share user analytics and advertising revenue with the news providers so that they don't lose out by sending their stories to Facebook instead of hosting them themselves. 

This isn't the first time Facebook has dabbled in delivering the news. In early 2014, it launched an iPhone app called Paper, which automatically reformatted news stories into a magazine-style layout, similar to that of rival Flipboard. Facebook has taken much of what it learnt about how people read news in Paper and applied it to Instant Articles.

As with Paper, Instant Articles will initially only be available on the iPhone, although Facebook says it will "continue to developing Instant Articles with our partners over the coming months". 

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