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Facebook Launches Instant Articles, & I’m Still Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

So Facebook announced its ground-breaking, industry-shattering, paradigm-shifting  plan to host articles and videos published elsewhere and I find myself distinctly underwhelmed.

It’s not just that the pilot is limited to just nine publishers, all of which are big names; I expected that. I also expected we would see the influence of Facebook’s paper app.

But I wasn’t expecting the beta test to be so damn limited.

facebook instant articles

Here’s what we know so far:

  • Last week’s leaked financial details were true; publishers can sell ads and keep 100% or let FB sell them and earn 70%.
  • The pilot is limited to nine publishers: Buzzfeed, NYTimes, WSJ, National Geographic, Atlantic Monthly, NBC News, and 4 others.
  • Instant Articles are fast to load and look great.
  • They can only be viewed from the Facebook iPhone app.

So this is the program which has been pontificated over, railed against, and dissected in (speculatory) detail over the last year?

Color me underwhelmed.

When I first started reading about Facebook’s plan to host content last year, it reminded me of Facebook’s earlier attempts to set itself up as a place to find news.

Way back in 2011 Facebook had previously set up Facebook-hosted web news apps for news publishers. The Washington Post had one called Social Reader, and so did many other sites. Publishers lost interest in that earlier project when traffic collapsed in May 2012, but my point here is that you could read the hosted articles on the Facebook website (I tested it in 2013).

But with Instant articles Facebook is only letting iPhone users read them.

No Android?

No browser?

No iPad? Seriously?

And this is the program which pundits have been discussing feverishly for the past 6 months or more?

Folks, I had been following this topic not just for the news value but for professional reasons. I had been contemplating whether to sign up if and when the program had open enrollment, and once the financial details leaked last week I knew that I probably would sign up.

I might lose something in direct engagement but if I can earn ad revenue then Facebook’s plan would actually be better for my pocketbook than, say, having an open RSS feed. I get hardly any revenue from the RSS feed, so if Facebook pays me something then their offer will be far more attractive.

And I earn nothing from Flipboard, so the fact that Facebook pays money and shares the analytics data makes their plan twice as attractive as that news aggregator.

But as it stands, this is far from being the earth-shattering kaboom everyone made it out to be.

I think wet firecracker would be a better description.

Someone let me know when Facebook expands the Instant Article program to include support for (at least) Android and the iPad, because until that happens I don’t expect this to amount to much.

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