clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Thoughts on Facebook-Götterdämmerung

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

1) Now that we've seen a few examples of Facebook's Instant Articles product, I find myself less sanguine than Timothy Lee, but more optimistic than John Herrman. They both make good points, though!

2) It is strange how new people seem to think it is for journalists to host their content through a third party. But consider the sheer amount of journalistic time and energy that goes into producing native content for with absolutely no revenue prospects whatsoever. Or consider the fact that most publications — including Vox — upload all videos to YouTube, which takes a much deeper cut of ad revenue than what Facebook is taking, at least right now.

3) Speaking of which, you should subscribe to Vox's YouTube channel!

4) Facebook’s Instant Articles do offer publishers a way to make money off their content — 100 percent of revenue on ads the publication sells, and 70 percent on ads Facebook sells. That’s a … really good split! But let’s be real, those revenue terms won’t last forever. Will they?

5) Perhaps Facebook isn’t trying to gain leverage over the news business so it can eventually squeeze our comparatively meager revenues. Perhaps it's decided that offering news businesses a technological subsidy and a favorable ad split if they route more of their content directly through Facebook is a cheap way to incentivize the production of a tremendous amount of high-quality content that will keep people coming back to Facebook.

6) The news media keeps seeing Facebook's move in terms of Facebook's plans vis-a-vis the news media, but maybe the real target here is Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, and basically everywhere else that people go to waste time on the internet. Maybe the ever-escalating war for attention has made the media, with its specialization in producing content people want to read/watch, the belle of the ball.

7) A more sinister version of the previous thought: perhaps this is a cheap way to lobby the media (and, through the media, the political system) on Facebook’s behalf.

8) My biggest worry about Instant Articles is the potential for a chilling effect on media innovation. How does a card stack work as an Instant Article? How about a data interactive? The initial articles are thick with bells and whistles, but as Facebook opens its publishing tool to more partners, it will probably need to standardize the features. Instant Articles will look more like each other than articles on different publishers' websites do right now.

9) Of course, Facebook isn’t making anyone use Instant Articles. Publishers can do whatever they want. But if you’re a publisher, why would you pump tremendous resources into an article format that’s going to perform unusually badly on Facebook?

10) The problem Facebook is trying to solve is a real one: news websites load slowly, and that’s bad for users, particularly mobile users. But one reason news sites load all that stuff is that publishers have added functionality that, in theory, makes their sites work better for users. If Facebook optimizes for speed and publishers optimize for Facebook, then the rate of innovation in how information actually gets delivered will slow, as anything new and complex a publisher tries will come with a Facebook penalty.

11) That wouldn't be particularly abnormal. Pretty much all communication technologies begin with an explosion of format innovation and then end up pretty standardized as certain technological paths and business models win out. Consider why pretty much all TV is blocked out into 30-minute or one-hour chunks, for instance. But it would be a shame to see journalism head in that direction at the exact moment we're seeing so much fantastic rethinking of the article form.