Facebook Instant Articles vs Google AMP Project, Welcome to World War Web

Maybe you’ve heard of Facebook Instant Articles. Maybe you’ve even heard of the Google AMP Project. So what’s it all about?

Ever since this internet thing became popular, publishers have been struggling to adapt. We moved from print to digital and many publishers never survived the shift. Now we’re witnessing yet another shift; this time from desktop to mobile.

Fundamental difference between desktop and mobile

There was once a time when we were willing to wait 5 minutes for our dial-up modem to establish a connection. Once upon a time when we were willing to sit around and wait 30 seconds for a page to load, because it was all just so magical and so worth waiting for. That was the past and times have changed.

While browsing at home on a desktop computer, you may be sitting comfortable in a chair, browsing the web in search for information. With mobile, people are always on the go. They’re on busses, in tunnels, elevators, shopping malls, or jay walking across a busy street.

Mobile users can’t deal with the load times. They don’t have time to close your pop-ups and they don’t care about your fancy nav-bar that links to a dozen other pages. Mobile users are purpose-driven. They click on an article because the title promised something, and this promise needs to be delivered as quickly as possible.

The publishing industry will either die or evolve

The publishing industry relies on advertising for revenue. It has been this way since the beginning of time. Content is made free to consume, and advertisers pay for it to capture your eyeballs. Advertising is made available through inventory, which essentially comes down to page real estate.

With the rapid shift to mobile browsing, publishers suddenly lost a majority of available screen space. Less inventory means less revenue, but the costs of content creation remains unchanged.

Publishers that try to cram too many ad units on a mobile screen will quickly see the impact on engagement. People don’t have the time or attention to deal with flashy ads and pop-ups, especially not on mobile. It is so easy to hop from one article to another on mobile, and readers certainly will if the experience is unpleasant.

New devices demand new formats and new practices

Content consumption on mobile is all about speed and focus. Content needs to get to the point as quickly as possible, without distraction. Companies like Facebook and Google have tremendous data around mobile users and have already been building new content formats for publishers to embrace.

These new formats are designed to be content-focused and load times configured to be 10x faster than the traditional mobile web.

Facebook Instant Articles vs Google AMP Project

Facebook launched the first missile, igniting World War Web, with the announcement of Instant Articles:

Rather than loading an article using a web browser, which takes over 8 seconds on average, Instant Articles load using the same fast tools we use to load photos and videos in the Facebook app allowing articles to load as much as 10 times faster than standard mobile web articles.
Beyond just speed, Instant Articles allow publishers to provide the same high quality, fluid experience and interactivity that people expect from a mobile app. Instant Articles has been designed with extensive feedback from news publishers. Publishers can serve their own ads and keep that revenue, track readership in real-time and with comScore, and customize the presentation of articles to match their brand.

This is Facebook’s response to the mobile shift. By delivering content directly within the app and not relying on a mobile browser, Facebook can deliver load times 10x faster than before. By imposing customization restrictions on the Instant Articles format, such as no navigation and javascript objects, Facebook can maximize content engagement on within its app.

This is where Google gets worried. If Facebook controls content, then they also control the ads. Google is, above all, an ad company. In retaliation, Google launches the AMP Project.

The Accelerated Mobile Pages (“AMP”) Project is an open source initiative that came out of discussions between publishers and technology companies about the need to improve the entire mobile content ecosystem for everyone — publishers, consumer platforms, creators, and users.
Today, the expectation is that content should load super fast and be easy to explore. The reality is that content can take several seconds to load, or, because the user abandons the slow page, never fully loads at all. Accelerated Mobile Pages are web pages designed to load instantaneously — they are a step towards a better mobile web for all.

Just like what you’d expect in a World War, alliances are being made and territories drawn. Google naturally partnered with Twitter and LinkedIn, two social networks that certainly won’t benefit from Facebook taking over the future of mobile web. It has been announced that Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest will all support the new Google AMP content format.

However, Facebook seems to be leading the way in terms of actual publisher adoption, including:

Billboard, Billy Penn, The Blaze, Bleacher Report, Breitbart, Brit + Co, Business Insider, Bustle, CBS News, CBS Sports, CNET, Complex, Country Living, Cracked, Daily Dot, E! News, Elite Daily, Entertainment Weekly, Gannett, Good Housekeeping, Fox Sports, Harper’s Bazaar, Hollywood Life, Hollywood Reporter, IJ Review, Little Things, Mashable, Mental Floss, mindbodygreen, MLB, MoviePilot, NBA, NY Post, The Onion, Opposing Views, People, Pop Sugar, Rare, Refinery 29, Rolling Stone, Seventeen, TIME, Uproxx, US Magazine, USA Today, Variety, The Verge, The Weather Channel.

Of course, Apple joins the fray with its own Apple News format, but the specifications for Apple News are still relatively unknown.

How will this World War Web affect content publishers?

Competition in this space is good. If Facebook Instant Articles was the only option, then they would hold way too much power. Any single platform having too much control will always be bad for publishers. Retaliation from Google forces Facebook to remain reasonable and competitive with revenue sharing and other offers. The participation of Apple in the war will provide even more options for publishers.

Last but not least, publishers don’t actually have to choose between these options. More likely than not, publishers will end up embracing multiple, if not all of these formats. These are responsive formats, meaning you don’t have to actually publish original content on each of these platforms. It simply means that your articles will load differently depending on where it’s accessed.

You would publish your article the same way you always do, on your website. Except when accessed on Facebook, it would trigger the Facebook Instant Article version of your article; when accessed on Twitter, it would trigger the Google AMP version; likewise with Apple News and so forth.

These new formats are creating possibilities for new methods of engagement, new forms of advertising, and new opportunities for publishers to grow and evolve.

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