Re/code reminds us that Facebook’s Instant Articles are still stuck in the era when news stories happened once, and then were never updated:
Earlier this month, several publications ran reports that legendary actress Meryl Streep made a flippant, tactless remark about the lack of diversity in Hollywood. “Meryl Streep on diversity: ‘We’re all Africans, really’” read a Mashable headline that went viral.
Turns out that the headline was woefully wrong. On Saturday, Mashable added this massive correction to the top of its story:
Meryl Streep’s “We’re all Africans, really” comment was a direct response to a question about Arab and African films, not a response to questions about the Berlinale Film Festival’s all white jury, as the article and headline originally suggested. A recording of the panel shows that Streep’s original comments were misrepresented in subsequent reports.
But the note is only there if you read the Mashable story online. Find the same story on Facebook, where many people now discover and read news, and the update is absent.
That’s a pretty common problem.
Apple News has the same fault (and that’s just one of its problems), and so do a lot of the smaller news reader apps. The one I use, for example, might update an article but it also might not. If I want to make sure I am seeing the latest version of the story I have to request it (by pressing G on the keyboard).
This problem is in fact so common that I don’t think you can fault Facebook and Apple for missing it. Sure, Google Reader polled published articles and regularly updated them, but Google was also willing to throw money and resources at a service that never paid for itself.
The fact of the matter is, checking for updates to published articles takes significantly more resources than simply checking an RSS feed for newly published articles. A service would have to pull a copy of all of the available articles in an RSS feed and then compare the new copy to the copy it is already hosting (there doesn’t appear to be a standard “updated” flag in the RSS spec).
That’s not so hard to do when you’re only working with a single feed, but what about when a platform has to work with a few hundred thousand feeds, or a few million?
Facebook is building Instant Articles to service those millions of feeds. They will open up the platform to all web publishers in April, and so any solution to this issue will need to scale with the platform.
That said, this is a fixable problem. The simplest option would be for Facebook (and Apple, for that matter) to give publishers a button to request a refresh of an updated article. But that would still require extra resources, so I could see why neither Facebook nor Apple have followed through.