Google, Twitter join hands to take on Facebook in content wars?

Google and Twitter are said to be working together on a new platform that will make it easy for publishers to show their content to users of the two tech giants’ services on mobile devices

e4m by Abhinn Shreshtha
Published: Sep 28, 2015 9:23 AM  | 5 min read
Google, Twitter join hands to take on Facebook in content wars?

Google and Twitter are said to be working together on a new platform that will make it easy for publishers to show their content to users of the two tech giants’ services on mobile devices. There has been no official announcement from either company regarding the same.

A source familiar with these developments also told us that there were no plans to monetize the offering and the product would be out before November 2015.

Though there might be arguments about the longevity of traditional newspapers, news itself is still very much in demand. As content consumption moves to mobile, a number of tech companies are working to create a better experience for audiences.

According to a report by Recode, which quotes multiple sources familiar with the development, Google and Twitter will be moving in a different direction from what has been done by others like Facebook. For one, the news platform will be completely open source, unlike the proprietary platforms of Facebook, Apple and Snapchat, so anyone can develop it further. Secondly, Google and Twitter will not be hosting any of the articles and all viewers will be redirected to the actual publisher. The only thing that the two will work on is to improve ‘discoverability’ of content and improve the overall viewing experience.

Facebook launches Instant Articles earlier this year while Apple, last week, announced a Flipboard-like mobile news app, which would be launched with the company’s new iOS 9 operating system. Snapchat is also said to be working on its own news platform.

The common thing about all these three platforms is that publisher content will be hosted by the tech companies to enable faster uploads and a more seamless experience for viewers. For example, Facebook claims that articles upload 10 times faster on Instant Articles than on standard mobile web.

Manan Kotak, Digital Head at Chitralekha agrees that platforms like Instant Articles are useful for publishers. “It (Instant Articles) has some good features for editors and is compatible with audience measurement tools like Google Analytics, ComScore, etc. Given that, Facebook has way more reach as compared to Twitter, we will have to see what Google and Twitter come up with,” he told us.

 However, this approach has raised a few eyebrows.

For example, when Facebook launched Instant Articles in May, some Indian publishers questions about how ad revenues would be shared and how much control would have to be given away to Facebook. Facebook later declared that ad revenues for ads sold by publishers would be 100 per cent with the publisher (Meanwhile, 70 per cent of ad revenues would go to publisher for ads sold by Facebook).

Even in the case of Apple News, the NYT reported that some publishers were unhappy with the rigid controls that Apple had set for the app, including lack of support from Google’s DoubleClick, the most popular ad network in the world.

Content has become big business for the three biggies that are Google, Twitter and Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg has made no secret of his intentions to make Facebook the one stop for all news updates for users. Twitter, over the last couple of years, has been strategically aligning itself to become the favoured second screen for TV companies. Apple, on the other hand, say some Western analysts might want to develop Apple News into its own digital ad network.

Both Google and Facebook are neck-to-neck when it comes to referral traffic on the internet. Earlier, in June, Facebook overtook Google as the number one source of referral traffic. As of July, according to data by content analytics firm, Facebook had extended its lead over Google and accounted for 38.2 per cent of all referral traffic as compared to Google’s 35.2 per cent.

This is in sync with an overall trend being seen in the industry where social media is accounting for the lion’s share of referral traffic to publishers. However,  this is not the first time Facebook has overtaken Google and on previous occasions Google has bounced back so there is no reason to think it might be different this time and new initiatives like this partnership with Twitter will help it win back any lost ground.

For advertisers, it is a win-win situation. More efficient browsing experience not only helps the audience but, also, if ads load quickly and efficiently, it takes care of issues like banner blindness. A study by Google earlier this year said that 56.1 per cent of all digital ads are not even seen by the audience; a reason for which is that at times that ads do not load completely due to the bad network conditions.

 If the likes of Google, Twitter and Facebook can solve this problem by ensuring faster uploads of content pages, then that would be one less thing for content producers to worry about.

However, it does come at the cost of losing control over their content to an extent; something publishers have always been wary about.

“This is an interesting challenge as the publishers are used to owning the consumer so far, which now changes suddenly. While this is great as a way for publishers to showcase their brand to new users, it is not a great situation as far as existing consumers are concerned. Overall, this may trigger counter consolidation among publishers and also force them to think better consumer experience; all of which will be better for the consumer. For Facebook, Google and Twitter, this is a natural progression to retain the consumer within their walls, especially in the mobile app world where fluidity of navigation is limited and everyone is in the race to provide the most exhaustive and interesting user experience,” opined Swapnil Shrivastav, VP (Ad Tech) at Times Internet.

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