For the record, I think that Instant Articles (IA) have a steep UX hill to climb.
The media in general has been raising arms up and down while kneeling before the face of Facebook’s new Instant Articles newsfeed feature that will allow publishers to host content directly on Facebook so that it lives natively on the FB platform instead of just through a link.
Names like John Gruber (of Daring Fireball & Markdown fame) and Josh Constine (TechCrunch) are enamored with the possibilities – mostly in the belief that improved content load speed (publishers choice to host on FB or not) leads to a better user experience (UX). Actually most of what I’ve read so far highlights this speed factor as the thing that will keep Facebook users on the newsfeed longer while benefiting publishers who will still be able to use analytics for measuring/tracking and serving ads within the IA framework.
Yes speed is good, BUT …
What I haven’t been reading about is the risk that Facebook and publishers run when Facebook users are confronted with more clutter. IA will give publishers some creative control with fonts and CSS styles, but again, how will users react to different looks, fonts and other styles within the newsfeed? For me, this will be interesting to observe.
I have a gut feeling it won’t be pretty just from personal experience and observations with UX.
I recently opened my official Twitter app to be accosted by a cluttered mess in my timeline – ads, cards, different fonts, conversation lines, “while-you-were-away”, text below images, text above images, ect., that I immediately closed the app and returned to the clean look of Tweetbot. Basically, Twitter has cluttered up the timeline so much that I’ll do anything to stay off of the official Twitter experience. I love Twitter, but not official Twitter.
So I ask, “Is Facebook running the same risk with Instant Articles?”
Will users see IA as just another Ad form to avoid?
Since Facebook is apparently allowing publishers some broad freedom with content, we’re going to see more auto-play videos and irritating in-your-face attempts to capture our eyeballs within IA.
Although I enjoyed Facebook’s Paper app from the start and saw it’s immediate benefits, Instant Articles just doesn’t seem like a solution to a problem that users will embrace. The Paper team, now responsible for IA, may simply be adding clutter to the UX this time around though. I may be wrong, but time will tell.
Because IA is just an iOS experience for now, the fallout might be minimal – maybe.
However, if users look at IA as just some form of Ad grab with more tracking, Facebook and publishers may turn eyeballs away or worse, encourage them to look for some form of in-feed blocking solution (hint: app opportunity for someone).
David Holmes of PandoDaily raised some good questions that publishers may also want to carefully weigh.
From what I’ve seen and heard so far, publishers are experimenting with IA and going with long form content that is just plainly too long. Also, look for another vector for annoying ads within Instant Articles which in the long run, may become someone’s in-feed ad blocking opportunity.
I had a recent tweet convo with someone who claimed that Facebook is killing it (in the good sense), first with auto-play videos and now Instant Articles. Yes, he was a marketing type and failed to dive below the surface. Yes, Facebook’s auto-play videos look good from an at-face-value perspective.
Yet, when Facebook counts just 3 seconds of auto-play video play as an actual view, how legitimate is the argument that Facebook is killing it?
When a search engine page for “auto-play” just turns up link after link on how to disable it, when tweet after tweet with “auto play” as a keyword phrase turns up nothing but complaints, how actually is Facebook killing it?
Now here we are with a Facebook “feature” that will undoubtedly include more auto-play videos, different styles, more tracking and a UX dog plate of experimental content – how will users react?
That’s the question I look forward to watching Facebook users answer.