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Facebook Instant Articles: A Slippery Slope For Google To Do The Same, Hurting The Web?

Facebook made an announcement about Instant Articles, a way for publishers to post stories directly on Facebook. It has been predicted that this would happen, and there’s been some serious debate regarding whether it is good or bad. However, it has not been seen what would happen if Google follows Facebook’s lead. It could, potentially causing the web to be swallowed up by two gatekeeping giants.

Introducing Google Instant Results

It would be incredibly easy for Google to mimic Facebook. Here is the top portion of Facebook’s press release that announced the move. If you replace the word “Facebook” with “Google”, you get this:

“Today we’re excited to introduce instant Results, a new product for publishers to create fast, interactive pages on Google. As more people get their information on mobile devices, we want to make the experience faster and richer on Google, particularly on our mobile app. To date, however, these pages take seconds to load, by far slower than Google itself. Instant Results makes the reading experience as much faster than standard mobile web articles.

Along with a faster experience, Instant Results introduces a suite of interactive features that allow publishers to bring their stories to life in new ways. Zoom in and explore high-resolution photos by tilting your phone. Watch auto-play videos come alive as you scroll through stories. Explore interactive maps, listen to audio captions, and even like and comment on individual parts of an article in-line.

We designed Instant Results to give publishers control over their stories, brand experience and monetisation opportunities. Publishers can sell ads in their articles and keep the revenue, or they can choose to use Google AdSense to monetise unsold inventory. Publishers will also have the ability to track data and traffic through comScore and other analytics tools.

‘Fundamentally, this is a tool that enables publishers to provide a better experience for their readers on Google’ said a Google executive ‘Instant Results lets them deliver fast, interactive articles while maintaining control of their content and business models.’”

Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions

Facebook does have good reasons to offer this Instant Articles. It has been frustrating for users to have to wait for an article to load, after clicking on a link at Facebook. For this reason, it does make sense for publishers, at least in the short term. Many do have concerns that the move could cause publishers that are already too reliant on Facebook and its fickle News Feed algorithm to increase even more so. This is a valid concern. However, the larger concern is that having a giant like Facebook drain so much content effectively within its walled premises gives license for Google to do the same.

Facebook’s Move Enables Google

All of the arguments that Facebook has made for this program, Google could make as equally valid. Facebook’s move – which is backed initially by major publishers including Axel Springer’s Bild, will enable Google to have exactly the same kind of program, if it wants. That is particularly ironic when Axel Springer is so critical of Google just linking to its content. How’s it going to feel when Google wants to actually host that content?

Google, of course, already host some publisher content now, most notably via YouTube, Google Currents, which I doubt few even remember, is closer to what Facebook is doing. However potentially, Google could leverage Facebook’s move to have a program where anyone listed in its search results has an option to host their content right on Google. Due to speed, user experience, inactive maps, zooming video, etc. Despite all those good reasons, it’s a big concern about what this means when the free and independent web is mirrored within the walled premises of Facebook and Google.

Healthy Evolution Or Seismic Shift?

It makes sense for publishers to go to where the users are. Many even think that websites are not even necessary these days. However, the fact remains that many are concerned that if both Facebook and Google offer to host everything in the name of speed and user experience this could be the beginning of the end.

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