When Apple announced Apple News and Facebook announced Instant Articles last year, publishers knew that they would be feeding articles into the tech companies' wall gardens, but they didn't know just how many gates they would have to unlock to do so.
Over the past month both Facebook and Apple have opened their platforms to all news publishers, and in doing so it has become obvious that the process for getting the content into the walled gardens isn't nearly as easy as (for example) Facebook claimed last year.
In the case of Apple, publishers have to be approved and then submit content by hand, and Facebook's process is even more complicated.
While you can get a site into Apple News simply by handing the service an RSS feed, if a publisher wants all of the features (adverts, analytics, enhanced formatting) then they have to request access to the Apple News Format.
A publisher first has to apply for permission, and then submit content for Apple's approval. The process bears a strong resemblance to submitting an app to iTunes or an ebook to iBooks, only in this case publishers are trying to get dozens of articles past Apple's monitors, just so they can be given away to readers, and not just a single app or ebook. (This is why I don't think any news publisher expected Apple News to be easy or convenient - not if they knew Apple.)
Once approved, the news publishers have to submit articles singly. The automated solutions, including the official WordPress plugin, generally don't work. "I gave up on using the WordPress plugin," one publisher told me. "I input articles manually, which means not everything makes it into Apple News."
Given that I don't have an iDevice anymore, and thus can't troubleshoot Apple News, I'm still supplying an RSS feed. And that brings us to another problem: both Apple and Facebook expect publishers to invest in hardware in order to make sure that the content will meet with Facebook's and Apple's approval.
Facebook is arguably worse than Apple in this regard; they out and out promised it would be easy to publish to Instant Articles when in reality they make publishers jump through hoops, do a song and dance, and sacrifice their first-born CPU core to the great ghod Kram Grebrekcuz.
I can share a blog post on Facebook using a bookmarklet (anyone using a plugin is doing it wrong) but the process for submitting one to Instant Articles brings to mind sadomasochism.
Writing over at Plagiarism Today, Jonathan Bailey detailed the many steps involved:
if you look at Facebook’s “Quickstart” guide, you’ll see that the process is a bit more involved than the home page seems to indicate. Fortunately, some of the steps are optional (especially if you are a one-person enterprise) but you still have a lot that you have to both on your site, your Facebook page and your mobile device.
To successfully get Instant Articles working on your site you need to do the following:
- Sign up for Instant Articles (Including a Facebook Page if You Don’t Have One)
- Download and Configure the Pages Manager App for iOS or Android (For Testing)
- If You Intend to Use a WordPress (or Other) Plugin, You’ll Need to Create an App in Facebook for Developers
- Claim Your URL on your Facebook Page (Will Require Editing Your Site’s Header)
- Format Your Articles for Instant Articles (This is What the Plugin Does)
- Setup Either Your RSS Feed or the Facebook API
- Create a Style Template for Your Instant Articles
- Set Up 50 Articles (Yes, Fifty)
- Submit Those Articles to Facebook for Review
- Wait 24-48 Hours and See if You are Accepted
This process, unfortunately, is not straightforward and, in my experience, not clearly explained in the WordPress plugin or by Facebook itself, especially when you try to figure out the order of operations. To make matters worse, it still gets further complicated if you want to add ads or analytics to your posts, which require additional steps.
The worst part though is that, after all of this work, you may or may not be approved. Facebook provides a lengthy checklist that your site has to meet and, on top of that, has article policies, design policies and other required elements that your posts have to include.
In short, many sites will not meet these standards out of the box and will have to go back and fix 50 articles to satisfy Facebook, even if they have no interest in actually publishing them.
It’s a time consuming process and, unfortunately, one that doesn’t guarantee you admission into Facebook Instant Articles.
I have not tried to get into Instant Articles, and that is because when I looked at the steps involved in getting into Instant Articles I concluded that there was far too much work involved to be worth my time.
My links are on Facebook already, and there's no obvious benefit to giving the articles to Facebook as well. (The only party saying there is a benefit is FB, and they have no reason to bend the truth, do they?)
In fact, some publishers are seeing a drop in direct traffic after investing heavily in FB Instant articles, just as some had feared. Rather than gain readers, IA is cannibalizing those publishers' website traffic.
That is a good reason to hold back, and let other test the shark infested waters, IMO.
images by Facebook, Ruocaled