Facebook Disrupting Digital Journalism with Instant Articles
Digital journalism, blogs, and web video have their share of dead analogs to their credit. It’s hard to calculate how many independent newspapers no longer exist. Broadcast journalism will soon also find itself struggling against online competitors, as fewer and fewer people from the later generations purchase cable television service.
The advent of content aggregation represented a mild disruption for digital journalism. RSS feeds had to be tailored such that the reader would still have an incentive to visit the site, rather than simply read the entire article in their feed reader and cheat the publisher out of display advertising. Ad-blocking software has begun to disrupt display advertising in major ways, as well.
Over time, a new class of netizens is coming into bloom which goes first to Facebook, then to Facebook, and checks out some Facebook pages while there. Facebook and other social media hubs have grown into the primary way in which humans share information online anymore. The concept of “virality” has meaning now, in that a “viral” video or article can net thousands, even millions, of views in no time at all. This means publishers of all sorts are in a constant race, and now, with Facebook’s foray into the arena, things just got a little more difficult.
Disrupting the Disruptors: The Hegemony of Zuckerworld
Facebook has long been the subject of criticism as a result of its preference algorithms. Authentic virility is near impossible anymore, with more than 100,000 different factors affecting whether or not a link will be shown in the feed of someone, even if they’re subscribed to the page in question. As a result, more publishers have taken to purchasing advertising from Facebook, promoting their content to people in various data sets. If there’s one asset Facebook does have, it’s information.
Now things have gotten even more interesting for publishers, however. Whereas previously users would at least click away from Facebook to visit their articles, many publishers will now be publishing via the “Instant Articles” platform.
This means the entire article will exist inside of Facebook, rather than as part of the ecosystem of the publisher. Leaving aside the fact that this will reduce further interest in the publication, the primary concern of many publishers is whether or not they can advertise, and whether or not Facebook will be sharing metrics with them. The answer to both questions is yes, and thus BuzzFeed, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and others have signed on. The platform is powered by WordPress’s VIP service, which caters to large organizations.
Assuming that revenue models are not directly hurt by Instant Articles, which is dubious despite all the glitz, there remains a cultural issue that takes place. Imagine Soviet Moscow. How many places did citizens have to go for information, no matter how many sources it came from? But a few, including Pravda, the major daily paper. The point is that the variety that is experienced by visiting different publishers will be lost in all this, and future generations might have no real understanding of all the work that goes into the content they get “instantly.” It seems less than optimum, to say the least.
But then again, disruption is the name of the game in technology. Facebook is in need of it, as is digital journalism. Just as newspapers and print magazines had to learn to survive after the coming of the World Wide Web, so too must digital publishers learn to survive in a world where social media no longer points to them, but rather engulfs them.
Images from Shutterstock and Facebook.