Sparta Report

How to destroy a world class social network in 3 easy steps

Remember how we heard a couple of years ago that Facebook was going to increasingly control all the content we read? Apparently, the fad-chasing publishing companies are discovering this isn’t working out too well:

There was optimism, too. Facebook’s daily aggregation of eyeballs is the largest in human history, and publishers were eager for the chance to capture more of them. It seemed possible that a superior reading experience could benefit readers, publishers, and Facebook at the same time. “In the long run,” wrote Will Oremus at Slate, some might find they’re better off outsourcing their distribution and ad sales to well-funded tech giants and refocusing on what they do best: reporting the news.”

But two years after it launched, a platform that aspired to build a more stable path forward for journalism appears to be declining in relevance. At the same time that Instant Articles were being designed, Facebook was beginning work on the projects that would ultimately undermine it. Starting in 2015, the company’s algorithms began favoring video over other content types, diminishing the reach of Instant Articles in the feed. The following year, Facebook’s News Feed deprioritized article links in favor of posts from friends and family. The arrival this month of ephemeral stories on top of the News Feed further de-emphasized the links on which many publishers have come to depend.

And after two years of experimenting with Instant Articles, many outlets appear to have had enough. The New York Times, which had been a launch partner for Instant Articles, abandoned the platform last fall. Vice News, Forbes, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and Hearst publications are among the large publishers who have joined it in leaving.

The article goes on to say, near the end, that in spite of Instant Articles flopping, “where Facebook leads, publishers follow.” I think this is not necessarily a correct conclusion if Facebook is unable to deliver any revenue to the publishers.


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