15 posts categorized "Web/Tech"

Do Facebook Instant Articles Support The Open Web... or Facebook's Walled Garden?

Facebook instant articles

Will Facebook's impending opening up of its "Instant Articles" on April 12 to ALL publishers of content help the "open web"? Or will it just keep more people inside of Facebook's shiny walled garden?

As Facebook's launch announcement says in part:

We built Instant Articles to solve a specific problem—slow loading times on the mobile web created a problematic experience for people reading news on their phones. This is a problem that impacts publishers of all sizes, especially those with audiences where low connectivity is an issue.


Facebook’s goal is to connect people to the stories, posts, videos or photos that matter most to them. Opening up Instant Articles will allow any publisher to tell great stories, that load quickly, to people all over the world. With Instant Articles, they can do this while retaining control over the experience, their ads and their data.

It sounds great on many levels and blogging pioneer Dave Winer has written passionately about "How Instant Articles helps the open web" (also published on Medium). He went on to document his Instant Articles (IA) feed and to talk about how his blog posts now automagically stream out to Facebook Instant Articles along with other services: Oh the places this post will go!

The beautiful part about Instant Articles is that it is based on good old RSS feeds ... and so with a few additions to the markup of your RSS feed you could be ready to go technically to start publishing Instant Articles. (There are a number of other steps you need to do, though.) Even better, and a point Dave definitely makes, Facebook Instant Articles will update when you make changes to your original text - something that doesn't happen with services (such as Medium) where you can syndicate your articles after you write them... but they don't update.

As Dave notes in "How IA happened from my point of view" by quoting me (in my comment left on Medium), I think this a great step in allowing publishers to easily get their content into Facebook's Instant Articles. My quote said:

"I have expected that Facebook would be focused on keeping everyone inside their shiny walled garden and thought I understood that Instant Articles involved putting your content on FB’s servers… which I now understand it *does*, but via caching of an RSS feed. Which is VERY cool!"

In my previous quick reading about Instant Articles, I had understood that it involved publishers loading their content onto Facebook's servers - and so I thought that we who publish would be forced to load our content onto FB's servers separate from our own websites.

In other words, I thought we would need to publish twice.

This, to me, would NOT support the "open web" that exists outside the big walled gardens of content that we are seeing now evolving.

I thank Dave for helping me understand that Facebook very nicely chose to base IA on the consumption of RSS feeds. This allows us as publishers to create our content once and syndicate it out to Facebook Instant Articles.

This is good and very much in line with the IndieWeb thinking around "POSSE - Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere" that I very much believe in. I applaud Facebook for making it so easy for content publishers to make our content available as Instant Articles.


Is the existence of Instant Articles good for the open web?

Right now, when I post a link in Facebook to an article on one of my sites:

when people follow that link they view the article on MY site.

On MY web server, running somewhere out on the distributed, de-centralized and "open" web.

(Which, yes, is increasingly getting centralized in terms of content hosting providers, but let's leave that for a separate article. The point is that I currently do have multiple choices for where I host that content.)

People can interact with my site, see my content there, potentially leave comments there on the site, etc.

My site, and the content on that site, is not dependent on Facebook.

The key point about viewing Instant Articles is:

Reading "Instant Articles" keeps you ENTIRELY within Facebook's walled garden.

You read the Instant Articles inside of your Facbook mobile app. You comment and interact with the article inside of Facebook's app.

All the interaction happens within Facebook's mobile app.

Yes, as a publisher I can get analytics about my content, including via other services such as Google Analytics.

And yes, all the Instant Articles content is pulled in from my website out on the "open web". But while that content is pulled in using "open protocols",

the content is cached (stored) on Facebook's servers and made available through Facebook's own networks.

Over time publishers might start to ask:

Why not simply publish everything DIRECTLY inside of Facebook?

With Instant Articles, Facebook is already serving out my content from their servers... why don't I simplify my workflow even more by just publishing all my content natively inside of Facebook?

And if I were Facebook that would be what I would ultimately want. Even more content exclusively inside MY walled garden that would keep people staying inside those shiny walls.

Yes, User Experience Matters

Having said all of this, I do understand WHY Facebook is doing this beyond the obvious desire to keep people in their walled garden:

The mobile user experience of reading/viewing content has a HUGE need for improvement!

Even with the push by Google and many others to make the web "mobile-friendly" there is still a huge amount of room for improvement.

We need to speed up the "mobile web" and to improve the user experience.

Facebook is trying to do this with Instant Articles. Google is trying to do this with "Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)", which I'll be soon writing an article about. Apple would like to do this with Apple News.

All of those efforts, though, do speed up the mobile web ... but only for users of specific apps / browsers / etc.. Each of the efforts creates a better mobile user experience, but within their own walled gardens.

And I do understand that from Facebook's point of view the mobile user experience isn't as seamless as it could be when people are in the Facebook app and then follow a link out to a completely different look-and-feel and a completely different user experience.

It can be jarring. And it may not work all that well.

Instant Articles will bring a significantly better user experience to users of the Facebook mobile apps.

As a user of those Facebook apps, I can see that being a good thing. Admittedly I sometimes do not follow links I see in my NewsFeed because I know from experience that the site linked to loads slowly and I don't have time at that moment to wait to view that article. I want to see it NOW.

But is the price of a better user experience worth the continued centralization of content within large walled gardens?

And will anyone really care... as long as they can read their article as fast as possible?

Will I Publish Through Facebook Instant Articles?

Of course!

I'm not stupid! The reality is that right now a huge amount of the audience I want to reach is within Facebook's shiny walled garden - and uses Facebook's NewsFeed as a primary way of getting much of their content. I am there myself and do get a large number of links that I visit on a daily basis through what I see in my Facebook NewsFeed.

Like Dave Winer already does, I'm working to see what I can do to make at least a few of my sites accessible via Instant Articles by the April 12 launch. (For instance, I see WordPress plugins for IA already emerging and FB themselves provides some guidance for content management systems.)

I'll do it because my end goal is to get my content seen by the people who I want to reach.

And right now, Facebook is the way that so many people consume content.

I have to go where the conversation is happening.

Do I worry, though, about the long-term effects this may have on the "open web"?


And I think you should, too.

We Need An Open Internet

We need an "open web" ... and a far larger "open Internet" ... where we don't have to ask permission to communicate, connect, collaborate and create (what many of us call "permissionless innovation").

The centralization of content, both in terms of publishing of content and consumption of content, is a very worrisome trend.

Huge, centralized walled gardens such as Facebook today can make Instant Articles "open to everyone" ... but tomorrow they could start to play much more of the "gatekeeper" role, determining:

  • precisely "who" gets to publish content to the Facebook audience (which they are already doing in a way through the process of applying for Instant Article access);
  • whether that content gets to be seen by all Facebook users (which they are already doing with the NewsFeed algorithm and could do even more now that Facebook Reactions are out);
  • whether that content gets to be seen for free - or for a price (which they are already doing with the NewsFeed algorithm for displaying Pages content and letting you "boost" content).

Yes, I'll publish through Facebook Instant Articles (assuming my feeds get approved) because it will help Facebook users more easily view my content.

And I'm glad that Facebook chose to use RSS as the base to allow us to easily publish our content as Instant Articles without having to create a separate mechanism for publishing to Facebook.

I just worry that in then end this will only help keep more people inside of Facebook's shiny and pretty walled garden ... versus interacting with the many other sites and services that make up the larger open Internet.

What do you think?

Will you start publishing your content as Facebook Instant Articles? Do you think that we as content providers have much of a choice if we want to reach people on Facebook? What do you think this will do long-term?

An audio podcast about Facebook Instant Articles is also available:

UPDATE #1 - In a bit of synchronicity, Dave Winer published a new post - Who should support IA and how - at about the same time as I posted mine. He suggests that IA should be used as essentially the improved plumbing to make the mobile user experience better across different platforms and walled gardens. I don't disagree.. but I wonder how many of the other walled gardens (ex. Twitter, Medium) would actually support Facebook's protocol. (Sounds like a topic for another blog post...)

CircleID - A News Site About Internet Infrastructure, Domain Names, new gTLDs, more...

CircleidWant to stay up on what is happening with the underlying infrastructure of the Internet? Or perhaps more interested in what is happening with domain names or the new "generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs)"? Curious about Internet governance issues? policy issues?

For all of those topics, and many more, a site I've come to rely on is CircleID.com.

It is a "news" site, but one that is very focused on what is happening in the underlying infrastructure that powers the Internet - and from both a technical and business/marketing point-of-view. There are technical articles and blog posts focused on topics such as IPv6, DNS security, cybersecurity, cloud computing, etc. - and there are more business-focused articles and blog posts talking about the business behind domain names or the new generic TLDs.

For marketers and communications professionals these latter topics are quite important - there is much going on right now in that space that will define what the future of domain names will look like.

I should note that Circle ID is a community-driven site and anyone can register and sign up to contribute. If you want to publish articles in this space - or have a client for whom this would be a logical audience to write - the folks behind CircleID are always open to new contributors.

To that end, I should note that I do write at CircleID from time to time and have republished some of my Disruptive Telephony posts there in the past.

It's a great resource, and one that many of you may find useful to track what is happening behind the curtains of the Internet.

P.S. Naturally CircleID is also on Twitter and Facebook, too, and has a host of RSS feeds.

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Want to Join in World IPv6 Day? Here's How To Set Up Your Home Office With IPv6

Worldipv6day 2Tomorrow, June 8, 2011, is "World IPv6 Day" and Google, Facebook, Yahoo and hundreds of other sites are preparing to enable IPv6 on their main websites. For 24 hours, the main websites of those organizations will be accessible over both IPv4 and IPv6, rather than requiring a separate domain name like "ipv6.google.com" or "www.v6.facebook.com".

The day will be a day to test out how well various websites work using IPv6... and what experiences users have in connecting over IPv6.

Would you like to join in the testing and experimentation?

To do so, you need to have IPv6 connectivity, naturally. You can go to either of these sites to see if you currently have IPv6 connectivity:

If you do have IPv6 connectivity, then you are all set to participate and will have no problem connecting to sites using IPv6.

If you do not, but would like to join in the experiment, here are two articles I wrote about how you can easily configure a home network to use IPv6 using the free service available at Tunnelbroker.net:

I also have other information available on an IPv6 Resource Page I put together (the page does have a slant toward telecommunications because that's the business I'm in... but some of the tutorials are equally applicable to people outside of telecom).

Direct participation in using IPv6 on World IPv6 Day is entirely optional, of course, although everyone will be part of the experiment of the big sites adding IPv6 support. You don't have to do anything and hopefully everything will "just work" for you on the Internet and Web tomorrow.

For those of you who would like to play, though, hopefully these links are enough to get you started...

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How Fast Do Your Pages Load? Check Your "Site Speed" In Google Analytics

How fast does your website load? How fast do individual pages load? With Google stating that site speed will factor into future search engine result placement, how can you tweak your site to make it load faster?

To help with all of that, Google announced earlier this month a new "Site Speed" report available in Google Analytics. I've enabled it for a number of my sites (it's not on by default) and the results have been quite interesting. Here's a view of the average load speed of my Disruptive Telephony site:


Overall, my pages on the site take about 12 seconds to fully load into a web browser... perhaps because I dynamically load in various RSS feeds into the sidebars. That is the point of the report, though... I can now start digging into WHY pages load slowly. The report also shows the data for each individual page (at least, for pages that have had visitors), letting you dive down into more details.

In fact, you can explore a whole range of details. As Google's blog post notes, this report can help you understand:

  • Content: Which landing pages are slowest?
  • Traffic sources: Which campaigns correspond to faster page loads overall?
  • Visitor: How does page load time vary across geographies?
  • Technology: Does your site load faster or slower for different browsers?

Now, as I mentioned earlier, the Site Speed report is not enabled by default. As explained in this Google support note, you need to tweak your Google Analytics tracking code to start sending a new variable back to Google. Assuming you are using the current asynchronous tracking snippet, you just have to add one line to your tracking code:


After you make that addition, GA will start collecting your speed data from that point forward. Now, you should note that GA only uses a sample of your overall data to generate the reports and statistics... but you can see very clearly in the user interface what the sample size is.

Note that there are two important caveats about this report.

First, the Site Speed report is only visible in the "New version" of Google Analytics. After you login to GA, you probably have to click the "New version" link at the top of the screen to switch:


Once you are in the new version of GA and then select one of your sites, you'll see a "Site Speed" report in the left-hand nav bar:


The second caveat is that this Site Speed report only works in some web browsers per the Google help page:

This report currently supports the following browsers: Chrome, Internet Explorer 9 and previous versions of Internet Explorer with the Google Toolbar installed. More specifically, the Site Speed reports require browsers that support the HTML5 NavigationTiming interface or have the Google Internet Explorer toolbar installed

With those two caveats in mind, I've found the report to be quite a useful view into what is going on within my site. What do you think? Have you enabled this yet? Did it help you understand where you might want to make some changes?

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Are You Seeing Increased Website Referrals From LinkedIn?

Are you seeing a dramatic increase in referrals to your website from LinkedIn? Over on Business Insider, Nicholas Carlson wrote about the dramatic spike in referrals they are seeing from LinkedIn and provided this chart to prove it:


It certainly is a dramatic growth curve!

I'm not seeing anything remotely similar across my own blogs or over on the Voxeo blogs, but then again, those sites aren't providing regular "news" to the degree that Business Insider is doing so. The content that is being posted to my sites and/or Voxeo's sites is also far more focused in terms of subject matter than the BI news. It is probably not showing up in any of the "LinkedIn Today" services they are now providing, whereas content on BI and other more "news sites" certainly would show up.

Anyone else seeing a "LinkedIn Effect"?

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KISSmetrics' Great Infographic on The Evolution of Web Design from 1990's to Today

Mashable.com today published a great infographic that was created by KISSmetrics on "The Evolution of Web Design".

For those of us who have been working with the web from its earliest days, it's a great trip down memory lane. I remember learning of "the World-Wide Web" back in 1991 or so when all you could do was telnet into info.cern.ch. I had written and was teaching an "Introduction to the Internet" class for large companies in the Boston area... and had a section at the end about "new topics" that included a brief mention of this world-wide web thing :-) Shortly, thereafter, of course, I was rapidly developing courseware in how to create HTML pages and helping people learn how to set up websites.

We've come a l..o..n..g.. way from hand-coding all our pages using an editor like "vi" or Notepad...

Kudos to the KISSmetrics team for coming up with the cool infographic. The full graphic is huge... but worth checking out.


P.S. Kudos to the KISSmetrics folks for also providing a "Facts and Stats to Tweet" area below the infographic, complete with links to tweet out those stats. A well-done example of making it easy for people to tell the story you want and get people coming back to your site... ;-)


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AOL Buys Huffington Post - Mathew Ingram Curates The Zillions of Articles

Unless you have been offline today, you have to know by now that AOL bought Huffington Post for $315 million... there are literally thousands of articles being written (some are linked on Techmeme). Thankfully, Mathew Ingram over at GigaOm curated some of the best into a post describing reactions:
What the Web Is Saying About AOL’s HuffPo Purchase

Thanks, Mathew, because yes, there are simply way too many articles being written on this right now!

For my part, I was skeptical when AOL announced it was changing its course to be a "content company", but this action along with their purchasing of sites like TechCrunch and hiring many reporters certainly shows their determination to be a major player in creating online content. I still am admittedly skeptical, but I do have to give them credit for continuing to assemble a great team.

Meanwhile, if you did somehow miss the news today, do read Mathew's post as he puts the pieces together nicely.

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For all you love fonts, check out what's coming in Firefox 4...

Wood Type

Flickr credit: lwr

If you, like me, enjoy good use of typography, check out the support for control of OpenType font features via CSS coming in Firefox 4:

These are some of the minor nuances in typography... but they can add up to make a site or document just look that much better! I'm looking forward to trying them out once FF4 becomes available..

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Nettuts+ Video Tutorial: Getting Clever with CSS3 Shadows

Lately I've been doing a great amount of experimentation and testing with CSS - and seeking to understand more of the goodness that comes with CSS3 as more and more browsers support both HTML5 and CSS3. In that experimentation, I came across this great video from Nettuts+ about how to create shadows with CSS3. I thought it was quite cool and recommend it for anyone else playing around with CSS3:

Now... if only all the browsers out there would fully support CSS3!

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Here's the #1 Reason I Hate Websites That Use Flash...

Right here in the screen capture:


If the fan on my MacBook Pro starts kicking in... or if it gets slow... or if I look at the CPU monitor and see it jacked to near 100%... all I have to do is open my Activity Monitor and...

99% of the time it's an issue with Flash!

Now, granted, it's probably not "Flash", per se, but rather "a website that isn't using Flash properly". Or "a website that has a poorly written Flash app."

But that's perhaps the point... so many websites out there have poorly written Flash apps!

The good news is - and THE reason I use Google Chrome - is that I simply kill off that process and my Mac goes back to being snappy again. Still, it's annoying.

How about you? If you're on a Mac do you find Flash sites jack up your CPU?

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