Facebook has begun rolling out its Instant Articles feature to Android smartphones, and has brought in five new publisher partners from India as well. Instant Articles has been available to iPhone users since October, when the Android beta started, and the rollout is now happening gradually on Android.
Publishers who partner with Facebook can host their content on the social network directly, and this means that the stories are loaded within the Facebook app. This means that you can load stories much more quickly, without having to leave the Facebook app at all.
In theory, it’s a great idea because it allows readers to quickly get to the content they want, and allows publishers to display media-rich content easily, and to cache content so that articles open in moments, even on 2G networks.
Facebook achieves faster loading by pre-loading articles as you scroll your News Feed. Because the article has already been loaded in the background, pictures pop up instantly when you tap the link, and embedded videos start playing the moment you scroll down to them.
On the other hand, it also helps Facebook to become a gatekeeper to the Internet, and there have been many who have raised doubts about the openness and fairness of a model like Facebook’s Instant Articles.
(Also see: Facebook Instant Articles and the Slow Death of an Open Web)
Internationally, Facebook has seen a fair number of major publishers join Instant Articles, with publisher partners such as the New York Times, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, Bild, Huffington Post, Vox Media, and several more.
In India, five partners have been announced so far; India Today, The Quint, Aaj Tak, Hindustan Times, and The Indian Express. Facebook will monitor how different types of content are being consumed and open the platform to other publishers in 2016.
Bringing Instant Articles to India now that the service is on Android and not just iPhones makes a lot of sense, and the fact that the company has already signed up Indian publishers highlights how it has been getting more involved with India – as shown by Zuckerberg’s visit to IIT, even in the face of pushback from people in India who feel that Facebook’s Internet.org – now Free Basics – is a threat to net neutrality.