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Facebook: The other Internet

Mike Elgan | May 19, 2015
Facebook, like Google and other Silicon Valley giants, doesn't want its employees to leave.

That means Facebook has a theoretical 3.1 billion people who use Facebook for communication. Coincidentally, that's the population of the entire Internet.

Of course, there's a massive overlap here. The total number of humans using Facebook products to communicate is probably around 2 billion, give or take a few hundred million. But no other company has numbers like this. The company dominates online communication.

Facebook is rapidly developing a system for its users to buy things on Facebook without leaving Facebook. Its "Buy" button places instant commerce inside ads. Expect Facebook over time to replace app stores, catalogs like Amazon.com and more.

Then we come to content. Facebook famously encourages uploading videos, which auto-plays them in your feed. Watching viral videos and looking at GIF and photo memes is one of the most popular activities online, and a massive amount of that already happens on Facebook.

In fact, Facebook claims that videos are watched on Facebook 4 billion times per day, up from 3 billion just in January and up from 1 billion in September. The rate of the video-watching behavior on Facebook is truly astounding.

Sure, videos can be imported into and watched on Facebook. But what about articles? The standard procedure on social networks from the beginning has been to paste a link into a post, possibly with some summary or contextual blather.

The problem with links from Facebook's perspective is that it takes you somewhere else.

And that's why Facebook's big announcement last week was so astonishing, brilliant and powerful and in support of their mission to keep you on Facebook as long as you're online or most of your online hours.

Facebook announced a feature called Instant Articles. They tout as the benefits the fact that articles will load 10 times faster than if you have to link to a browser app. They also highlight the fact that the media experience of looking at articles in this system is rich, with movement and sound and the publisher's own design and typefaces.

To look at Instant Articles as mere speed and beauty is to entirely miss what Facebook is starting here. It's nothing less than a coup to replace content websites. Instead of sending users out, Facebook is bringing the publishers in.

Inside Facebook's app, no browser is needed to read shared articles. Tapping anywhere on the summary, headline or photo instantly opens the full article. Facebook is using some killer engineering to directly access the phone's processors, enabling rich, multimedia content that normally feels slow and bloated to be zippy and instant.

Instant Articles is an offer publishers can't refuse. For starters, Facebook has the audience with a viral sharing upside. Instant Articles look way better and perform way better than articles posted on the publishers' websites. Facebook lets publishers keep 100% of the ads publishers sell to appear with the articles. And publishers have all the control about what they publish, when and how.

 

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