Facebook just launched Instant Articles today. In short, it allows articles that used to be web links to load as part of the native code inside their native iOS application. I spent a good four + years working on a similar problem with Onswipe – how do we make the web feel as fast, fluid, and beautiful as a native app? As much as we tried to replicate the performance of a native app on the web- it isn’t possible with modern web browsers or even any future web browsers. We tried everything from our own javascript libraries for touch interactions, rendering the content server side so it loaded super fast, and building our own ad server for full page ads. These were great leaps forward, but none of them were on par with native app performance. The two main reasons are – ad servers usually load dozens of nested iFrames inside of each other, blocking Javascript causing long load times and mobile web browsers are not meant to have complex javascript for performant touch interactions. To be honest, we took a bunch of steps back in performance and achieved the opposite of our goal from a user experience standpoint due to issues like ad performance – the product became a UX and performance train wreck over the past 2 years that was not a pleasant experience for users. Instant Articles are what I always wanted the product to feel like for the user experience and it makes me happy to see it live.

Facebook is one of the few companies on earth with the ability to control performance and what happens after you tap on a link. In my mind, Facebook and other social applications like Twitter are the new browsers for the mobile age. Instead of typing in a url to an address bar or getting 10 links from Google, we get a bunch of links shared by our friends. Instant Articles is finally the first big leap forward in what happens “after you tap on the link”. Here’s why I believe it will succeed and be the future of the web:

It’s centered around links

The URL still exists and that means it’s shareable. If you got rid of the URL, that wouldn’t be sensical for Facebook. URLs are the atomic unit that we share with others. They’re also a brilliant trojan horse. I don’t want web views anymore. If I click on an Instant Article enabled piece of content in Twitter or an email, I hope that it one day opens up in Facebook. We’re getting URLs,the great part of the web, with the performance of a native app. To me, the web is not about standards set by the W3C or a web browser, but the ability to share and access content of any kind via links.

It’s focused on the user first, not the publisher

I love publishers, but they have a tendency to get in their own way when it comes to UX. They put the priority of advertising in front of the best user experience possible. With Instant Articles, we’re given a clean reading experience that will delight the user. Facebook is one of the few organizations in the world to have the power to convince publishers of this. The web we know has become a cesspool, because of bad user experience from almost every publisher imaginable. Facebook can right those wrongs.

It’s publisher friendly

My biggest fear is that most publishers are going to die out in the next four years, due to lowering CPMs and poor UX. If publishers go away, links go away, and then the web becomes far less important. Facebook is letting publishers serve their own ads AND have creative control – the two biggest issues they care about. It’s also nice icing on the cake to see Facebook give 100% of revenue to pubs that serve their own ads and a very generous 70/30 on revenue they sell. This is huge for publisher adoption while bringing forth constraints that ensure the user experience. I hope that a WordPress plugin for smaller publishers comes about, that lets all publishers adopt instant articles.

It’s mobile only

As much as most of the publishing industry likes to talk about being mobile-first, it’s a lie. Their sites were started before mobile and a big part of their revenue is on desktop. Instant articles though, give them a chance to have a mobile-only feel. It’s 2015, the experience I get from the web and tapping on a link, should be amazing. The user experience is designed around not just text, but photos, videos, and maps – the web of today. I want to experience the web and content on it, as if the web were invented in 2015, not 1989. Instant articles do this.

I don’t know how serious of an initiative this will be for Facebook in the long term. I hope that it’s a big one though. I hope that over the next twelve months, the majority of links that I open from Facebook will be an Instant Article. It’s a better user experience and the web that we deserve in 2015 after tapping on a link.