This post has been updated.
Facebook moved one step closer to taking over the internet this morning with the formal launch of “instant articles,” which allows publishers such as the New York Times, National Geographic, Buzzfeed, and others to publish their work directly through the social network rather than on their own websites.
Why would they do this? Because “today, almost a billion people will visit Facebook to check out what’s happening in the world around them,” Facebook executives say against a backdrop of soul-stirring music.
“Most of them will come across articles in their newsfeed, shared by their friends and their favorite publishers,” the company added, “and one of the huge issues we see is how long it can take for those articles to load, which we know on phones is a really big deal.”
So in a great leap forward for humanity that surely ranks alongside being able to pay for things without digging in your bag or receiving notifications without putting your hand in your pocket to reach for your phone, Facebook has cut out those excruciating extra seconds of load time by publishing directly on its own website.
But where are these articles?
Update 8.48am ET: A Facebook engineer and a Facebook spokesperson earlier this morning told Quartz that articles will appear on facebook.com/instantarticles and whether it appears on the publishers’ Facebook page is up to the publisher. But the first “instant article,” from the New York Times, is now live, and it is available only on facebook.com/nytimes, not facebook.com/instantarticles. Another Facebook spokesperson has written to say “We are just sharing the articles there [facebook.com/instantarticles] as an easy place for people interested in the product to find them. But the main distribution is on the publisher’s own pages.” Nonetheless, the native articles are, for the moment, available only on iPhone.
Update 9.03am ET: A third Facebook spokesperson has written in to say that no content is exclusive to Facebook. All articles will be published on the original website, on the publishers’ Facebook page, and on instant articles. Watch this space (or indeed that space).
Looking at facebook.com/buzzfeed or facebook.com/nytimes will not yield any of this magical new content—at least this morning. Facebook users must visit and “like” a special page—facebook.com/instantarticles—where the pieces will be shared by and by. At the time of writing, the feed was empty.
This is an intriguing distribution mechanism, because it means that people who “like” this page will see a news feed of all of Facebook’s instant articles partners rather than just the ones they already like—a de facto newsstand.
A Facebook spokesperson told Quartz it is up to each of its news partners to decide whether to post their native content to Facebook’s instant articles page alone or in addition to their own Facebook pages.
Moreover, it is also up to the publishers to decide whether the articles they post to Facebook are exclusive to the social network or also published on their own websites. Indeed, the spokesperson said the answer to most questions about how this will work is: “It’s up to the publisher.”