Facebook launches Instant Articles in India

Android users in India will be able to browse content from five local publishers through the Instant Articles feature on their Facebook app


Instant Articles publishers make dedicated, feature-rich content, which is hosted by Facebook, which loads within the app itself. Photo: Bloomberg
Instant Articles publishers make dedicated, feature-rich content, which is hosted by Facebook, which loads within the app itself. Photo: Bloomberg

New Delhi: Starting Monday, users of Android smartphones in India will be able to browse crisp, feature-rich content from five local publishers through the Instant Articles feature on their Facebook app, two top Facebook Inc. executives said.

The rollout will happen gradually on Android, they added.

Instant Articles publishers make dedicated, feature-rich content, which is hosted by Facebook, which loads within the app itself. Content loads faster because users do not have to leave the app by clicking on links. The feature is currently available only in the US and western Europe on Apple’s iOS.

Andy Mitchell, Facebook’s director, news and global media partnerships and Michael Reckhow, product manager for Instant Articles confirmed the Instant Articles India launch in a telephone interview.

“We at Facebook are really excited to be rolling out Instant Articles in India on Monday. We are working with a publisher ecosystem that is varied and we are excited to see how this product will resonate with Facebook users and publishers in India,” said Mitchell.

The five publishers are India Today, The Quint, Aaj Tak, Hindustan Times and The Indian Express. The five represent a cross-section of publishers and will allow Facebook to monitor how different types of content is being consumed in the Indian market. Facebook will open the platform to other publishers early next year. Instant Articles content will appear within the news feed itself, and needs no app update.

Until now, Instant Articles has been limited to the US and Western Europe on Apple’s iOS. “We have just started our Android beta and are immediately coming to India with great partners which is a big milestone for us,” added Mitchell.

According to Reckhow, “We are launching in India on Android as the country is a heavy Android user market. Besides, Android is designed to be fast; so articles load quickly on Android and thus can be quickly read.”

Both Mitchell and Reckhow said it takes an average of eight seconds for a page to load on Facebook’s mobile app. Instant Articles, in comparison, leverages technology in such a way that articles load instantly, making the reading experience as much as 10 times faster than on the standard mobile web.

Besides connecting readers to stories faster, Instant Articles will also allow Indian publishers to use a lot of immersive storytelling tools that will result in engaging and interactive content. This is possible as Facebook will share its technology with Indian publishers so that they can deploy the same native tools to produce rich content. For example, the facility to embed autoplay videos where the video is not a separate sidebar but an integral part of the story. Incidentally, autoplay videos are easy to build on Android, which is another reason the company prefers Android.

Clearly, India is a big market for Facebook. With 130 million users, it is the second largest user base for Facebook after the US. Mitchel is quick to admit that “emerging markets offers a huge opportunity for us.” He goes on to say that the most important problem they are working to solve is giving Indian people access to publishing content that they discover on Facebook. Article content is relatively less heavy than other content, but issues of load time and connectivity in a market like India (and other emerging markets) provide a company like Facebook a huge opportunity to make this content more easily accessible.

On issues of access and connectivity, Mitchell said: “We think a lot about this. Instant Articles is built to work in the way that mobile works and addresses those issues (of connectivity) that people face on mobile and, therefore, works fast and better. Bringing technology to publishers to make their content more appealing and easily accessible to readers is just the start and we will invest more in making this available to a whole host of publishers.”

Both Mitchell and Reckhow concur that with the launch in India, Facebook is also trying to solve problems of the mobile world and for this, the company has earmarked investments in mobile and invested in a lot of engineering efforts to overcome the barriers faced in the mobile world. According to Reckhow: “Instant Articles is going to give access to content not only on the Facebook platform but also to content from across different platforms—mobile web, desktop and, well, beyond just Facebook.”

“Finally, the India launch is all about Facebook’s focus on trying to make the best product for people to consume content and for publishers to create and publish content, ” said Mitchell.

Hindustan Times is published by HT Media Ltd, which also publishes Mint.