Archive for the ‘On Our Minds’ Category

Webinar Recap: 2015 Trends in Online Journalism

February 2nd, 2015 by Adam

The most recent Chartbeat webinar focused (loosely perhaps) on some of the larger trends in digital publishing industry and what we can expect in 2015. An excellent discussion was had, with digital prophets Justin Bank of the New York Times and Jonathan Goldner of MTV traversing topics such as emerging mobile strategies, video strategies, personalization and the future of paid content.

Take a listen to the full discussion here.

Want the skinny, but don’t have time to tune in for the whole thing? Well, you’re in luck. Below is my TL;DR (sort of) take.


Some highlights from the discussion:

Adam: Responsive design was a big deal in 2014. Is it going to be a big deal in 2015?

Jonathan: I think it’s a big deal to users that when they click the link it works. If it gonks or takes 42 min to load or isn’t available in my region, then I have a bad experience. We wouldn’t go to a movie theatre and—if the film was out of focus—respond with ‘welp, they tried’. Consumers just expect things to work and it’s no longer acceptable for things not to.

Adam: But is it enough? Responsive doesn’t seem to fully exploit the mobile platform. Shouldn’t organizations be trying to create a purpose-built mobile experience?

Justin: Sure, but it’s hard. It’s the easiest way for news organizations to catch up to a multitude of browsers and apps and different experiences. Responsive is a bridge to somewhere. In the future, news organizations will figure out when to put a greater lift into a custom experience on a more mature platform. Deep linking Google results [browser-based search results that take users into the app instead of mobile web version of the content] could get us there. Responsive is a very safe space to go right now to make sure it looks good. And if you can bet on something later good for you.

Adam: So if I’m a news organization trying to decide between designing a responsive site and a native app, I shouldn’t go for the app?

Jonathan: Your app has to really solve a need, have a great experience and content. And there are risks: will people find it? Will they download the updates? Will they be okay with allowing limited (or not so limited) access to their device? Are you willing to commit to the expense and effort involved in iterating the product? Will the experience be superior to the one I can get from other content-based apps? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram become your competitors. I don’t know that a lot of branded apps demonstrate enough value to usurp what Facebook offers.

But a device agnostic or responsive design is more future proof. And when the Nike smart shoe comes out, eventually the content just flows into that. There’s no need to create a new app and, besides, users really just want the content. For example, Reddit or Imgur are successful because they deliver just the content stripped of any gift wrapping.

Adam: Video is hard. It’s expensive and tough to scale. But it’s lucrative. Will we see more video in 2015 or will some organizations give up on video?

Jonathan: Yes - it’s really hard. We are used to really polished looking video and there’s a whole art to it - it has to be well framed, well lit, technically polished, which is expensive. Is it worth the investment? Sure it’s lucrative but that’s a result, not a reason to do something. Instagram didn’t decide to build something that could be sold for $7M dollars and then a bunch of stuff would happen in between. Instagram wanted to make the definitive sharing, quirky and mobile-only experience. In other words they focused on the experience and product.

But video does have some inherent advantages. It travels very well and is more viral that text. A killer story can be easily paraphrased, requoted, and repurposed. But a killer video can only be embedded or linked to - you can measure it, represent your brand exactly the way you want to and hopefully run pre-roll ads everywhere. So yeah, doing a list of the 12 best things about things is ephemeral so if you can do video and not suck at it ...

Justin: We learned how tough it is to do cable news. New York Times is doing great work and I’m confident we’re going to figure it out. For smaller orgs - you can’t build the starship enterprise, but there are certainly some great things you can do with vines, raw video, gifs, or with a talented artist who can mess around in Final Cut.

There is this incredible moment of video distribution now which makes the competitive landscape flatter and has lowered the bar to entry into the marketplace. But that disruption will calcify and normalize and new market leaders will emerge - Youtube is already reaching that point, broadcast diginets will fill up, any potential cable carriage deal imaginable will be negotiated and claimed, smart TVs will have universal standards (or at least slicker UIs that make it appear that way), aero will make it's triumphant return. The dominant video players from this era who navigate those waters will be in great shape. Insurgents that made the right bets will be able to catch up. Others will be further behind than ever before.

Adam: Is paid content a threat to journalism or a critically important source of revenue? Will the debate intensify in 2015 or have we accepted the fact that it’s here to stay.

Justin: If people are good at it it’ll stay. If they’re bad it’ll go.

Jonathan: Agreed. We may start using the word ‘spicy' in all of our Facebook posts, but if it feels forced, then nobody gets value out of it. But this Edward R. Murrow line in the sand where the newsroom shouldn’t be responsible for revenue anymore is over.

Adam: How much personalization will there be in news products this year?

Justin: As much as the technology will afford.

Jonathan: I’m not willing to go that far. I don’t like Lady Gaga but if she gets arrested I still want to know about it. There’s a taxonomical distinction between subverting the user’s selection while still understanding their need. We see that with different artists. People tend to share the Taylor Swift content in different ways than the Bieber content. Bieber is polarizing - he generates love traffic and hate traffic. The DUI stuff gets shared a lot and it’s not something that people want to read.

Justin: Ok but personalization isn’t just one person and his interest and likes. There are broader shades. It could be breaking news. At NYTimes we know how to report on things at different levels - with different depths, emotional tones, etc. that frame the content in a personalized way.

So, where do you think things are headed in 2015? I'd love to hear your take. Give us a shout in the comments or hit me up.

Tony Haile’s Data State of the Union

October 14th, 2014 by Alexandra

A few weeks ago everyone’s favorite Brit (who just happens to be our CEO) Tony Haile gave a talk at the annual Online News Association conference in Chicago. During his chat, officially titled “A Data State of the Union: Can We Make Quality Pay Online” he touches on the metrics that really matter, the challenge of metrics vs. mission that many journalists are faced with, and how we can fix some of the fundamental underpinnings of the media industry. Judging by the reaction on Twitter (check out #datasotu), a lot of attendees were digging what he had to say. Or maybe he’s just really charming. I’ll let you be the judge.

Don’t have time to check out the whole thing? Well, you should make time. Kidding! (Sort of). I get it—and so does Tony—time is scarce. Here’s the TL;DW version + slides:


Metrics vs. Mission

  • Many journalists are conflicted about data in the newsroom. Too often they feel they have to choose between metric or mission. It shouldn’t be an either/or.
  • Often, what seems like the simplest, most direct method of measuring success can actually backfire when it becomes the thing that’s most important. The job is not to chase traffic. In the business of news, random indiscriminate traffic is not what a business is built on.
  • It’s not traffic we monetize, but audience. Your audience knows who you are, likes what you do, and comes back. The goal is to build an audience—to acquire new people and convert them to loyal visitors.
  • And with this audience you’re not just after their index fingers, you’re after their minds. You have to create content that will make people like you and come back—and doing so often requires looking at data through a different prism.

  • Clicking and Reading are Different Things

  • Pageviews should not be privileged as the most important metric when 55% of clicks get less than 15 seconds of attention.
  • It’s not enough to get someone to click. We have to get them to read.
  • Newsrooms ought to be focusing on a reader’s propensity to return. That means thinking about capturing time, not just creating a catchy headline. A big spike in traffic doesn’t really matter if those readers don’t come back.

  • The Golden Metrics: Recirculation and Engaged Time

  • The key indicators of propensity to return are recirculation and engaged time.
  • Recirculation: the percentage of audience that has consumed a particular piece of content (e.g. actually read it) and chooses to go on to consume another piece of content. Are visitors sticking around to read another article, or are they leaving?
  • The number one way to increase recirculation is to write something good enough to make people want to read more. And then you have to give them somewhere to go. That means using referrer information to segment your audience (e.g. social vs. homepage visitors) and then promote the right stories in your side rails or through in-line links.
  • Engaged Time: The more time someone spends with your stuff, the more likely they are to come back. If someone spends three minutes on your site they are twice as likely to return as if they spend only one minute.
  • It’s important to remember that a visitor's default behavior is to leave. When you are trying to hold someone’s attention, you are competing with the entire sum of human knowledge. Every form of mass entertainment is simply a click away. You've got to win them with every single paragraph.
  • Recirculation and Engaged Time are balanced metrics. Often, going overboard with one metric, such as trying to boost recirculation with slideshows, will reduce Engaged Time. Think of these two metrics in context of each other and try to get them both balanced to reach an ideal state.

  • Metrics are important, but they aren’t the only important thing.

  • Even the most meaningful metrics can mess up a newsroom if they become the basis of incentive plans. Metrics should be used as a guide, not as a cudgel for compliance.
  • Metrics shouldn’t be tied to a journalist’s pay. A journalist doesn’t need external motivation to want to create great content. For the most part, incentive plans mean journalists stop relying on metrics and start resenting them. Metrics stop becoming a trusted feedback loop and become a cruel judge to satisfy.
  • An incentive system that can be gamed will be. Quotas are good for quantity, but they diminish quality and creativity. With quotas, journalists don’t take risks. They stick to what worked yesterday.
  • If you want your newsroom to embrace metrics, to learn and to seek a more effective path towards reaching your organizations's overarching goals, you have to give journalists the right metrics framed in the right way and trust their internal desire to do a great job.

  • We are NOT in a Golden Age of Journalism

  • We don’t actually monetize content at all. We monetize the links to content. If you click on a link and the page loads, it doesn’t matter whether someone even read the content, whether they liked or loathed it. The content itself doesn’t determine the value of the page.
  • The fact that it’s the clicking of the link (rather than the consuming of the content) that is the monetizable act, means we’re living in a world of infinite ad inventory where the marginal cost creating additional inventory is near zero.
  • In a world or infinite inventory, prices will always trend towards zero. The currency we predominately use to measure value is impressions, and thus pageviews, and that currency is killing us.

  • The Solution: An Economy of Scarcity

  • For us to be able to charge premiums we need to create an economy based on scarcity, where what happens with the content actually matters.
  • Time is the only unit of scarcity on the web, and it’s zero sum. A minute spent on one site is a minute not spent on another.
  • Attention correlates with quality. You have to be doing something right to capture that attention. And those who can capture more of it can charge more.
  • "If we can change the way we value what we do, then brands get happier, publishers have a sustainable business for quality journalism and the users get a Web... where anything that makes them want to leave is bad for business. That's a Web worth fighting for."

    - Tony Haile

    On the Facebook News Feed Algorithm Changes and Why Short-Form Content Will Be Just Fine

    August 25th, 2014 by Tony

    Facebook announced today that is is making some changes to its News Feed algorithm to combat clickbait. Primarily, the social network will be looking at how much time people spend reading away from Facebook.

    “If they click through to a link and then come straight back to Facebook, it suggests that they didn’t find something that they wanted. With this update we will start taking into account whether people tend to spend time away from Facebook after clicking a link, or whether they tend to come straight back to News Feed when we rank stories with links in them.”

    Focusing on attention and time is nothing new for Facebook. On its last earnings call, Facebook specifically spoke about the size of their market opportunity in terms of the available time and attention they were able to accrue. On a more practical note, Facebook has been factoring how much time people spend away from Facebook after clicking on an ad into its pricing algorithm for some time now. In some ways, the news today is simply a wider application of that action.

    Second, the decision to enable greater previewing of links, effectively giving the visitor more information to decide whether the content is interesting to them, potentially confirms a theory that Chartbeat’s data science team has held. On average, traffic from Facebook spends about 60% more time reading than traffic from Twitter. While there are likely a number of factors in this, the more sophisticated previewing in Facebook is a clear differentiator that we think affects this.

    Take together these two actions confirm that Facebook is taking its users’ experience incredibly seriously and are leaning more and more on the fundamental concepts of the Attention Web to do so. That’s good news for quality publishers everywhere.

    But what does this mean for great short-form content? The one potential challenge to this was raised by Matt Galligan of the excellent news service Circa:

    It’s utterly logical to be concerned that content designed for brevity would suffer under this algorithm. However, I think this underestimates the comparative wealth of attention that even content designed to be brief gets. The depressing truth of the Internet is that short-form content hangs out on the same end of the distribution curve of the Internet as long form when it comes to attention.

    As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the majority of pageviews on the internet get fewer than 15 seconds of engagement. Facebook is looking for those incidences when people come ‘straight back’ to the feed, suggesting that the threshold they’ve set for clickbait may be rather low. If your content matches the intent of your headline (ie. you’re selling what you’re promising), then you’re highly likely to beat Facebook’s threshold even with short form.

    Bottom line: Focus on creating quality content, match it with an accurate headline, and you’ll be fine.

    It’s Time for the Attention Web

    May 19th, 2014 by Kyle

    The web has changed in a lot of ways over the years, but pageviews and impressions predominantly remain as the metrics by which many publishers and advertisers measure the so-called success of their content and campaigns. It's time for a change. It's time for the Attention Web, which puts a premium on high-quality content—where publishers are rewarded for feats of journalistic strength, and where advertisers can buy an audience's collective attention. Why does it matter? What does it mean? Who's leading the charge? Check out our infographic, which we think is pretty damn awesome. Because rocket ships.

    CHECK OUT THE FULL INFOGRAPHIC ▻

    attention-web


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    You’re Invited! “Building the Attention Web” at Our Office on Monday, May 19

    May 16th, 2014 by Alexandra

    We’re in the business of measuring and monetizing attention on the web. We work with publishers and agencies and brands to help them do just that. In doing so, we’ve learned that in order to move the media industry past valuing only clicks and impressions, it’s going to take all of us working together.

    So, let’s do it. Let’s get together to start solving the parts of the advertising and publishing world that are broken.

    On Monday, May 19, we're getting a few smart folks (that’s you) together at our office in Union Square to talk about the value of content and advertising on the web.

    We call it "Building the Attention Web." But you can call it free snacks and nerdery.

    — RSVP NOW —

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    The panel discussion will feature:
    • Joy Robins, VP Advertising & Strategy at Quartz
    • Jen Ray, VP Account Director at Havas Media
    • Patrick Yee, Executive Vice President for Marketing & Strategy at Refinery29
    • Daniel Mintz, Head of Business Intelligence at Upworthy
    • Shane Snow, Co-founder at Contently

    And of course, everyone’s favorite Brit, Tony Haile, our CEO, will be moderating the panel—by moderating we basically mean heckling and inserting as many bad puns into the conversation as possible.

    So let us know if you can come. We’ll save you a seat! But wait, that's not all...

    Also on our agenda for Monday: A Breakfast Engagement with Fred Wilson

    Our friends over at Disqus are hosting a breakfast summit that seeks to close the gap between what advertisers and publishers measure and what matters to the people they're trying to reach.

    Tony and Jay Lauf of Quartz will be squaring off to talk about premium content, premium audiences, and what’s next in the world of content measurement. The event will also have talks from folks at Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Etsy, and more.

    Looks like we’ll be doing a whole lot of hanging out on Monday, huh? See you then!