What I’ve been working on for the past year

Here it is. The new, multiplatform MSN. Engadget has a solid overview piece. The content proposition is fairly straightforward – a customisable mix of useful tools and the best content from many of the world’s biggest publishing brands across a bunch of key topic areas or verticals, curated by teams of in-market editors. The aim on a technical level is actually the most interesting part of it – we’ve been developing a cloud-hosted CMS that enables single-publish across all devices and platforms, for both web and apps, running across 55 markets in 27 languages, with a coherent look and feel no matter your screen size or operating system. That’s properly ambitious. Most of my input has been procedural (improving multimarket and multiplatform publishing processes) and hidden in the back end (I was part of the CMS superuser group that’s been working on back-end UX and workflow). I’ve not had as much involvement in the front-end design, architecture, or overall content strategy as I’d like, but still – a most definite improvement on one of the web’s longest-running major publishers (20 years old this year, and still doing a good 22 billion pageviews every month)....

Please keep Twitter pure

The filtered feeds of Facebook (and LinkedIn) are the things I dislike most about them, the unfiltered most recent first approach of Twitter what I love about it, so this possibility that Twitter’s going down the algorithmic-filter route worries me – and not just because of recent concerns voiced over how algorithms can affect net neutrality and news reporting. I very much hope Twitter at least retains the option of turning on the firehose, though I fully get the need to tame the chaos with some kind of algo or filter to pull in new users. Not everyone can get to grips with lists and Tweetdeck – too confusing for the newcomer. Now don’t get me wrong: algorithmic filtering has its place. One of my favourite apps is Zite, and I was an early adoptor of StumbleUpon (well over a decade ago) – precisely because of their ability to get to know my interests and serve me up interesting content from sources I’d usually not discover by myself. For Facebook to offer up this kind of service, with its vast databases of its users’ Likes, makes perfect sense (though I’d still prefer a raw feed, or category feeds, so I can split off news about the world from news about my actual friends – a new baby or a wedding is not the same as a terrorist attack). This is why I love Twitter – it is raw, unfiltered. And at 140 characters a pop, it’s (more or less) manageable. Especially if these old stats are still accurate, suggesting the majority of Twitter users only follow around 50 other...

The “Netflix of News” and the death of the publishing brand

I loved the concept when I first heard about it, and love that it seems to be working. Proof of concept done – now it’s time to take that concept and expand. Preferably globally. In short, it’s a cunning system that allows you to pay for individual articles from publications, thus avoiding the constant fustration of not being able to read that great piece from the likes of the FT, Times or Economist because it’s hiding behind a paywall. If this sort of thing takes off, it could be a whole new business-model – making paywalls more viable, while allowing monetisable ways around them. But there’s also an interesting quote from Blendle’s founder: “People want to read articles or want to follow specific journalists but aren’t particularly interested in the newspaper that it comes from anymore.” This is especially true in the age of social, where URL-shorteners are so endemic that half the time you have no idea which site you’ll end up on. I’ve got used to reading content that’s been de-branded via a hefty RSS addiction. That’s been replaced in recent years with an addiction to aggregation apps like Zite, Flipboard and Feedly, where what matters is the content itself, not the packaging, or where it’s from. If the content is good enough, it will stand on its own – it won’t need to hide behind the brand. In fact, the brand can sometimes be a disadvantage, because it leads to preconceptions that can skew the reader’s opinion before they’ve even started to read a piece. There are some publications I avoid simply because I assume that...

Numbers are our friends

Useful look at how detailed, adaptable, *tailored* performance data (and people who know how to analyse and explain it) is essential if you want to be successful in modern media. As so often, Buzzfeed seems to be ahead of the curve. It never ceases to amaze how often online publishers get het up about the wrong metrics. Tools like Omniture are obscenely powerful, yet all we tend to use them for is to find PVs, UUs, occasionally time spent, and sometimes how particular headlines are performing. Used properly, web analytics can help us keep our sites in a state of constant evolution, adapting to the tiniest shifts in user behaviour through minor design/code tweaks. This isn’t about becoming Keanu Reeves and learning how to read the Matrix – it’s just knowing how to use the tools that are available to us....

Journalistic quality vs the money men

Useful study on metrics vs journalistic pride, but leaves out a key aspect: the sales guys – because this is how the money is made and the metrics are ultimately determined. Time was, quality audiences would be worth more to advertisers than quantity. Why hasn’t online ad selling (and buying) caught up yet? Only when it does will there be incentive to move beyond page views and unique users as the key metric. Programmatic ad sales could be the answer, or could worsen the situation further – too early to tell. Anyway, worth a read: “Online media is made of clicks. Readers click from one article to the next. Advertising revenue is based on the number of unique visitors for each site. Editors always keep in mind their traffic targets to secure the survival of their publications. Writers and bloggers interpret clicks as a signal of popularity. The economic realities underpinning the click-based web are well documented. Yet much work remains to be done on the cultural consequences of the growing importance of Internet metrics. I conducted two years of ethnographic research (observing newsrooms and interviewing journalists, editors, and bloggers) exploring whether web analytics are changing newsroom cultures. The answer is a qualified yes, but in ways that differ from the ones we might expect.”...