Facebook's fast-loading Instant Articles are going live across all Android phones worldwide today following a public test phase that began in October. Instant Articles was first trialled on the company's iPhone app and has been available to 100% of iPhone users since October.
Instant Articles load 10 times faster than standard articles and are more likely to be shared, according to Facebook. The product's entry into the Android market is significant, putting Instant Articles in the hands of millions of people who use the leading mobile operating system on the planet.
"This program is now on Android which really just completes the major mobile platforms that publishers want to reach around the world," Facebook Instant Articles product manager Michael Reckhow told BuzzFeed News in an interview. "With this scale, it's going to be really exciting to see the engagement that publishers are getting."
Facebook introduced Instant Articles with the hope of improving the experience of people using its app, who often had to wait a number seconds before an article they clicked on loaded in a normal web browser.
The company offered publishers an option where it would host their articles in order to make them load faster, and give them a chance to sell ads within the articles, or sell the ads itself and give the publishers a cut.
Publishers signed on en masse after seeing people turn away from their content before it loaded. Over 350 publishers are currently using Instant Articles, with global participation spanning from Turkey to China, New Zealand, Qatar, Kenya, The Netherlands, Argentina, China and a number of other countries. Even Serial, the popular podcast, is publishing its own Instant Articles.
Entering the Instant Article's program doesn’t come without tradeoffs. Publishers, for instance, recently complained that restrictions Facebook placed on ad volume in Instant Articles were hampering their ability to make money from them (Facebook has since eased the restrictions slightly). And using the Instant Article format may hurt participating publishers' brands, since their more distinctive web pages are replaced with a more templated article page.
As people spend more time on mobile devices, and more of their mobile time within apps, Facebook, with its widely-used set of apps, is becoming an increasingly critical partner for publishers (including BuzzFeed).
Instant Articles is just beginning — version "1.0" is how Reckhow described it — but the path the product takes is worth watching for those concerned about the ability of publishers to sustain themselves in a new, economic environment unlike anything they've had to deal with before.