With a new service called "Instant Articles," Facebook (FB) hopes to both pull readers and publishers further into its social media network.
Instant Articles is debuting with nine media companies including The New York Times, The Guardian and National Geographic, and will publish articles in Facebook users' news feeds at a speed that the Internet company says will be as much as 10 times faster than the standard mobile web, which can take as long as eight seconds.
That benefits Facebook users, given that nobody likes waiting while pages load. But the initiative is also designed to lure publishers by giving them control over their stories and ad revenue.
That's increasingly a point of tension between publishers and Facebook, especially given the tens of millions of Americans who now rely on the social media network to keep up with news. About one-third of U.S. adults get their news from Facebook, according to a study published last year from Pew Research.
In a statement on Wednesday, Facebook said publishers can sell ads in their articles and keep the revenue, or choose to let the company sell unsold inventory.
"It is great to see Facebook trialing new ways for quality journalism to flourish on mobile," said Tony Danker, International Director, Guardian News & Media, in a statement. "The Guardian is keen to test how the new platform can provide an even more engaging experience for our readers. It is then vital that, over time, Instant Articles delivers recurring benefit for publishers, whose continued investment in original content underpins its success."
The other publishers working with Facebook on Instant Articles are The Atlantic, BBC News, German tabloid Bild, BuzzFeed, NBC News, and Spiegel Online, also of Germay.
While the Instant Articles newsfeed was empty early Wednesday morning, several publishers had posted a few stories, such as National Geographic's "Quest for a Superbee," by midday. If Facebook users already "like" a publisher, those stories will appear in their feeds. The Instant Articles page on Facebook also posts the stories for interested readers.
The service offers more than faster download speeds. Articles published on Instant Articles can tap into features such as tilt-to-pan photos, auto-play video and embedded audio captions, Facebook noted.
The product is designed to entice sometimes wary publishers to put their news stories on Facebook, which has 1.4 billion active global users. As The New York Times points out, its sheer size sometimes makes publishers uneasy, as they worry that Facebook will become more of a draw for their readers than their own sites, decreasing advertising revenue.
Facebook now contributes as much as 16 percent of The New York Times' web traffic, or double what it was just a few months ago, New York Times chief executive Mark Thompson told his newspaper. He said the company believed the service was worth testing.
He added, "This is a chance to expand and explore whether Facebook can become an even bigger part."