Facebook has unveiled a long-rumoured program called Instant Articles that will allow major web publishers like the Guardian, the New York Times, National Geographic and others to produce content directly on the social media platform without using the intermediary of their own websites.

The new program takes content from those companies and hosts them directly on Facebook's own servers — eliminating the need or ability to host that content on their own websites. Making content easily shareable on Facebook has long been a necessity for any web publisher, but previously, the strategy would have been to publish articles and videos on their own websites and then link to them via Facebook.

Introducing Instant Articles, a new tool for publishers to create fast, interactive articles on Facebook.

Posted by Facebook Media on Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Hosting one's own content not only costs money, but also isn't always optimized for a Facebook experience if the format used doesn't mesh well with the social media giant's back-end technology.

Instant Articles takes out that middle step and publishes the content directly to Facebook, so users can consume it without ever leaving the social media site and going to an external website.

The service launched Wednesday with nine of the biggest names in media as partners:

  • BuzzFeed.
  • The Guardian.
  • The New York Times.
  • National Geographic.
  • NBC News.
  • The BBC.
  • The Atlantic.
  • Der Spiegel.
  • Bild.

At launch, none of the publishers listed above will be doing away with their own websites entirely. Instead, participating media organizations will only publish a sampling of stories to gauge response. At least in the early stage, the system will only be in operation on Apple devices such as iPhones and iPads — although that, too, is likely to expand if the early reviews are positive.


Facebook has signed up nine major publishers to test out its new system from the launch date. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

Publishers will still maintain the advertising revenue generated from their content, Facebook says, and there`s an advantage for users and readers, in that the company says articles will load up to 10 times faster than external sites sometimes do.

"We're participating in Instant Articles to explore ways of growing the number of Times users on Facebook, improving their experience of our journalism and deepening their engagement," said Mark Thompson, president of the New York Times Company. "We have a long tradition of meeting readers where they are and that means being available not just on our own sites, but on the social platforms frequented by many current and potential Times users."

In a Times article announcing the move, Thompson said Facebook already accounts for between 14 and 16 per cent of the newspaper`s total web traffic.

Commenting outsourced

The system also allows for niche types of content, including interactive maps, gifs, audio files and autoplay videos, some of which often don`t currently work seamlessly when they are published externally and then linked to on social media.

The system also handles the commenting function, which could potentially save publishers a lot of money on that costly process.

"This is a tool that enables publishers to provide a better experience for their readers on Facebook," Facebook's product officer, Chris Cox, said in a press release. "Instant Articles lets them deliver fast, interactive articles while maintaining control of their content and business models."