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Pre-installed apps are reshaping the web traffic universe

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Illustration: Caresse Haaser, Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facebook and Twitter are declining as news and media referral sources on mobile, according to a report from traffic analytics company Chartbeat, which finds that users are increasingly using search for news as well as migrating to publisher and news aggregation apps.

Why it matters: The increase of social media distribution on smartphones meant that more people generally had access to more news and information than ever before, but a lot of it was unvetted, one-sided or outright false.

Between the lines: Three market forces are pushing news traffic to come from places other than traditional forms of social media...

  1. Facebook's January 2017 decision to begin distributing less news, which is pushing more people to access news traffic from sources directly via search.
  2. A commitment to higher-quality news aggregation services from device manufacturers.
  3. A narrative around fake news on social media that's pushing consumers to look elsewhere for authoritative news and information.

The big picture: Since January 2017, per Chartbeat...

  • Twitter and Facebook have declined in their share of traffic sent to news sites.
  • Facebook traffic to publishers is down so much (nearly 40%) that according to Chartbeat, "a user is now more likely to find your content through your mobile website or app than from Facebook."
  • Google Search on mobile has grown more than 2x, helping guide users to stories on publishers' owned and operated channels.
  • Direct mobile traffic to publishers's websites and apps has also steadily grown by more than 30%.
  • Flipboard has grown 2x in news referrals. It is the default news app on Samsung devices in the United States.
  • Google News (Mobile) has grown 3x since May 2018. It is the default app on "Stock" Android devices globally.
  • Apple News has grown, although it's unclear how much. It is the default news aggregator on iOS with certain products in the U.S., UK and Australia.

The bottom line: At a high-level, it's an example of how new technologies can be partially regulated by market pressure (and threats of democratic government regulation) over time.

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