Facebook Instant Articles and the web performance gap

The big news in our neck of the woods this week is the launch of Facebook’s Instant Articles. Although the handwringing about the open web and the future of publishing is important, there’s a tangential discussion going on in the web community that I find particularly interesting. It’s about the focus Facebook puts on the speed of the feature. It starts with the name Instant, and continues to play a big role in their marketing materials:

Articles load instantly, as much as 10 times faster than the standard mobile web.

Even the phrase “standard mobile web” is an interesting choice of words, and a subtle shot across the bow with a clear message: the web is sloooooooowwwwwww. Well, the web community took notice, and is gearing up for a fight. Here’s Jason Grigsby:

Tim Kadlec followed up with a great post called Choosing performance:

[The web is so slow at the moment] not because of any sort of technical limitations. No, if a website is slow it’s because performance was not prioritized. It’s because when push came to shove, time and resources were spent on other features of a site and not on making sure that site loads quickly.

This goes back to what many have been stating as of late: performance is a cultural problem.

I agree with them that this is the heart of the matter. Focusing on the instant aspect of the articles is a brilliant marketing move by Facebook. They looked at all the giant, slow, over-designed sites out there, saw an opportunity, and went for it. Let’s admit it: they won this round.

The big question now is: how are we going to respond? I think our best response is to fight fire with fire. Instead of trying to kill Instant Articles with the wrath of a righteous anger, let’s rather do something we should have done ages ago: prioritize performance. And Lara Hogan’s Designing for Performance is an excellent place to start.