Inside Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters, the arrival of Instant Articles in the spring of 2015 was presented as a cause for celebration. Talking with reporters, executives described the fast-loading, natively hosted articles as a promising new creative format. A suite of publishing tools incubated in Facebook’s now-defunct newsreading app Paper would find their way to Instant Articles, executives said, evolving the news posts shared on Facebook into immersive multimedia experiences.
For publishers — and journalism — the stakes were high. Readers who once regularly visited their desktop websites now got their news from Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and other apps outside of publishers’ control. For many large publishers, survival would depend on whether they could build loyal audiences inside third-party mobile apps.
Publishers were wary. Some feared Facebook would absorb so much content behind its walled garden that the web itself could be at risk. “Platforms are eating our business, and we’re letting it happen,” wrote Mat Yurow, then director of audience development at The New York Times. “Do you have any proof that publishers using another company’s proprietary platform have ever created a lasting and sustainable business?” asked John Battelle, a media industry veteran. (The answer appeared to be no.)