On Tuesday, Facebook debuted its long-awaited Instant Articles feature to all users of its iPhone app. Now, when someone taps a story in their News Feed from a select group of publications—including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Buzzfeed, and The Atlantic—they access a version stored directly on Facebook’s servers, not on the publication’s own. The company has started to test the feature on Android phones as well.
With the formal release of the feature, Facebook formally ends one era in the platform wars and begins another.
Since August 2013, when it adjusted the algorithm of its News Feed to favor “quality content,” Facebook has been the major referrer to news sites—either the fastest-growing or the just-plain biggest. Over the summer, the analytics company Parsely said that its proprietary data confirmed that Facebook now directs more traffic to news sites than Google. “The list is a lot longer than is publicly known of those that have Facebook delivering half to two-thirds of their traffic right now,” said Justin Smith, the CEO of Bloomberg Media, in February of this year.
And for almost as long as Facebook has been funneling free attention to news sites, there’s been a rumor that it wanted to go and straight-up host the content, too. There have been whispers of this intent since the summer of 2014; the late, great Times reporter David Carr was the first to actually report them almost exactly a year ago. The 12 months since have been stop-and-start: Buzzfeed and the Times itself would participate in the feature, we learned in March. Then we heard nothing for a while. Then Facebook began testing the feature, named “Instant Articles,” in May. Then we heard nothing for a longer while. And then, about three weeks ago, it began to trickle out to iPhone users. Now it’s fully deployed.