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Bad news from Mashable, BuzzFeed, and Vice shows times are rough for ad-supported digital media
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June 8, 2015, 2:58 p.m.
Audience & Social

Think of the five Facebook Instant Articles you saw last month as a way to fend off freakouts. By showing what Instant Articles actually look like, Facebook hoped to put an end to confusion, speculation and fears that the social media company is going to take over news and destroy distinctions between publishers.

On Sunday, Business Insider’s Jillian D’Onfro noted that “the actual launch has been much slower and less dramatic than anyone expected,” with exactly zero Instant Articles published since May 13. However, this doesn’t mean that Instant Articles is over; in fact, it’s about to ramp up.

Facebook normally launches new products very gradually, to about 1 percent of users, so that it can A/B test and collect data, and that’s the phase that Instant Articles is about to enter, according to someone familiar with Facebook’s plans. Starting in a few weeks, the nine Instant Articles publishers — The New York Times, BuzzFeed, The Guardian, NBC News, National Geographic, The Atlantic, BBC News, Spiegel, and Bild — will start publishing daily, but only a portion of Facebook users will see the articles. The articles won’t all be posted to the Instant Articles Facebook page, and if you’re not a user included in initial tests, you won’t see them at all.

So if The New York Times, say, shares a link to an article on its feed, only the users in the initial test group will see the Instant Article version displayed on their iPhones. Everyone else will be directed to the regular web version. (Here’s how this works.) In the background, of course, Facebook will be collecting data from this initial test group and sharing it with their publishers.

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