Archive for the ‘On Our Minds’ Category

Where Views Fail and Why Measuring Your Audience’s Time Is So Important

February 6th, 2014 by Lauryn

Today, Upworthy introduced a metric they're using on their content, which they're calling Attention Minutes. As we've done with our friends at Medium and the good folks at YouTube when they've introduced ways to understand how their audience is engaging with content beyond clicks and pageviews, we're extending a giant virtual high five.

It’s another big win for people, like us, who care about making sure awesome, quality content is the backbone of the media industry.  We've all been pushing in this direction for a few years now, and the flywheel is starting to spin faster and faster—Upworthy’s announcement is further proof of that.

You guys know us, and know we've spent just about every day of our company's history working with thousands of publishers across the globe to solve the problems of where the click and pageview leave off and how we can actually quantify what and how people read. We introduced one of our key metrics, Engaged Time, a couple of years back, and it's quickly become how lots of folks measure the quality of their content across the web. It tells them not just if people are clicking, but also if they're actually reading—there's a big difference.


How Do We Measure Engaged Time?

We silently ping every single visitor's browser every few seconds to check what they’re doing. First, we look to see if a browser tab is active or inactive—are they there or grabbing a cup of coffee in the kitchen?—and then we look for a few key triggers, such as moving or clicking a mouse, typing on a keyboard, or watching an on-page video. It's pretty different from traditional time on page, which estimates how long users keep pages open, rather than how long they actually engage with pages.

Why Is Measuring Time So Incredibly Seriously Must-Do-It Important?

Well, not only does it go beyond surface clicks and page loads to tell you what happens between those clicks, but we've done a lot research that says it's a huge indicator of the core goals most every publisher has: Building a loyal audience and monetizing that audience. Our data team found that users’ Engaged Time is strongly correlated with their loyalty to your site. Below is a figure showing the relationship between the maximum amount of time visitors spent reading articles one day and whether they returned to the site across the rest of the week.


Visitors who read an article for three minutes returned twice as often as those who read for one minute. If you get them to read your stuff, like your stuff, and come back again to read more of the stuff they like, you've done your job. Why? Because that's the kind of content and audience insights your marketing team can use to target the right audience with paywall upgrades or newsletter signups. And most importantly, it's information your ad sales teams can take to your brand advertising partners and sell. They can use this information to prove that your best content is read by your best audience and should be sold at a premium.

It proves your content is worth more than the headline that someone clicked on it. It's worth the value of someone actually reading that. Because when they read more, as this study on brand recall below shows, they're more apt to recall the brand that advertises next to that content they just consumed. That's pretty damn valuable, we're told.

Correlation between brand recall and engaged time

But don't just take our word for it. Exposure time as it correlates with recall has been supported by the work of the biggest advertising companies out there from Microsoft to Yahoo and Google, as shown in their research here:

Yahoo Recognition & Recall


Google CTR Ads Views


So let's go! Let's all—tech and analytics nerds, editors, ad sales teams, agency planners, brand advertisers—keep this momentum going. Let's stop letting the metrics of what we could measure in the past get in the way of what matters to our audience.

Guest Post: 4 Predictions for 2014: The Ascendance of Users and More

December 18th, 2013 by Phillip Smith

Phillip Smith is a digital publishing consultant who focuses on news innovation, specifically "the technology and ideas that are shaping how users interact with journalism online." You can find him on Twitter and at

Phillip Smith Chartbeat

When I created my first Chartbeat account back on March 23, 2010, I didn't anticipate that just a few short years later I'd be asked to host a talk at Chartbeat's NYC HQ to explore how publishers are going "Beyond the Click" to get to actual engagement.

I also didn't anticipate the impact of that event on my thinking about the nexus of publishers, the technology companies working in the publishing space, advertisers and media buyers, and -- most importantly -- the engaged users.

At the conclusion of the event I had a good hunch that this loose collection of ideas and initiatives, which fall under the heading of "new metrics for publishers" -- happening very openly at companies like Chartbeat and Disqus, but also unfolding in newsrooms around the world -- was likely to be a key theme in 2014, along with unprecedented technology innovation in newsrooms, the disruption of the existing advertising models,  and the changing demands of users.

Phillip Smith Chartbeat

Publishers take center stage on the Web

If you take it as face value, recent research tell us that roughly 78% of adult internet users in the U.S. go online to "get news." Add to that some of the other main reasons that people go online -- e.g., "to look for information about a service or product they are thinking of buying" or "to find information on a hobby or interest" -- and you’ll find that online publishers are often providing that information too.

This puts publishers in a very enviable position, I would propose, as the producers, purveyors, curators, and gatekeepers of much of the Internet's most sought-after commodity: fresh, timely, contextual, and relatively-objective information. One by one, publishers appear to have navigated their ships’ course to adapt to the changing landscape. They are focusing attention on a new, quickly evolving role as the central marketplace of information, attention, and engagement.

Newsrooms as software innovation labs

More interesting still is the relatively new trend of publishers investing in digital staff that are not stuck in the outdated role of "IT." Working at a distance from those folks that are managing the servers and infrastructure, these new "news apps" and "good Internet" teams are embracing experimentation. They are pushing the envelope of what users have come to expect as "content" and "information." The outcome is new forms of journalism and storytelling that invite the user to be more engaged, whether through data, interactivity, or awe.

One side effect of these investments is a quickly-maturing technical acumen in newsrooms and a wealth of contributions back to the open-source software community -- the same community that helped to make much of the innovation possible in the first place. A natural feedback loop is born: more technical innovation and open-source contributions by newsrooms lures more talented developers away from other sectors, and more talented developers often means more innovation in those same newsrooms.

Another upside of this publisher-driven innovation, is the pressure it exerts on the ecosystem of technology vendors they collaborate with, compelling those same vendors to evolve their products more rapidly and to open up new ways for programmers to work with their products.

Disruption of the display advertising model

Pressure is also being exerted on many of the players in the traditional online display advertising space, in many parts due to the experiments that online publishers are undertaking. For example, just one factor out of several -- the increased consumption of online content on mobile devices -- has meant that forward-thinking publishers have all but eliminated traditional display ad formats from their now "mobile first"  Web properties; the lonely "big box” display ad is almost all that remains in many recently launched "responsive" sites that aim to provide an all-in-one experience for readers arriving from phones, tablets, laptops, or desktops. The Boston Globe,, and NPR are good examples.

Other pressures, like low reader engagement with display advertising, and the complicated web of ad-delivery networks, slow ad-serving technologies, and the increasing practice of “programmatic buying” that sidesteps the publisher’s sales team, have lead to a wave of publishers experimenting with new ad formats that fall under the term "native advertising"  (or "sponsored content"), where the distinction between advertising and content blurs considerably. However, almost overnight, publishers have bootstrapped their own solutions to two challenges: ad formats that adapt well to the mobile reading experience, as well as, in many cases, increasing reader engagement. Some recent numbers suggest that as many as 3/4 of online publishers in the U.S. are now offering native advertising.

These shifts away from timidly accepting what technology vendors have to offer, or what advertising agencies are pitching, and toward producing in-house solutions to the challenge of increasing their readers' satisfaction and engagement exemplify publishers pushing the envelope at a time when they've come to see the role they play as one of the convening places on the modern Web.

Users start to pay for content, but want privacy too

At the other end of these shifts, however, are some established technology companies making quick moves to address these new challenges head-on with their existing products. For example, Chartbeat's push to create a new metric for publishers, "Engaged Time" is one great example (and they didn't ask me to say that!). Thought leadership is coming from all directions, and it is often touching on this intersection of publishers, advertising, and users.

There is, generally speaking, a surge of analytics and “big data” technology coming onto the market that is aimed at helping online publishers make sense of their mountain of accumulated "user data." A focus of many of these new analytics platforms is to help publishers understand their audience better, as well as which content performs the best, and publishers are increasingly in the position of making tough decisions about which visits matter to them most when they decide where to invest their editorial budget.

One voice is still often missing, however, or perhaps it is one billion voices: the end-user, the news consumer, the reader, the individuals who use the Web. This coming year, I predict, is going to be about the unfolding story of a new contract between readers, publishers, technology platforms, and advertisers.

 The continued, and relatively successful, introduction of pay walls at mainstream news sites, experimental subscription strategies at the heart of a new bread of entrepreneurial journalism initiatives, and the continued success of "crowd funding" to help support expensive types of journalism all point in one direction: publishers will rely less on "selling users to advertisers" as the exclusive strategy for financial sustainablity.

At the same time, however, users are growing leery from the ongoing revelations of the invasions of their privacy by the companies they once thought were infallible, and thus many are growing more reluctant to unwittingly hand over their information. Practices like programatic ad buying, which make online tracking more directly evident to end-users, and efforts like Mozilla’s Lightbeam for Firefox, which shine a light on how much data is being shared, and with whom, will continue to push users to ask for more privacy from publisher, advertisers, and platforms.

The dynamics at play above -- publishers, technology platforms, advertisers, and users -- and the tensions being exerted as each one tries to optimize their online experience -- whether it’s sharable content, ad delivery, better metrics, or more privacy -- is why I’m predicting that “the ascendance of publishers and users” will be a key narrative of the Web in 2014.

What do you predict will happen in online publishing in 2014? Do you agree with Phillip's predictions? Share your ideas in the Comments below.

Links We Like: Online Media

November 22nd, 2013 by Joe

links we like

As the Principle Product Owner of Chartbeat Publishing, part of my role involves staying on top of the latest and greatest stories in online media. After all, if I’m trying to build the most helpful, relevant, and effective products for our clients, I need to know the trends, developments, and new ideas that are happening in the industry.

I’m back on the blog to share few recent favorites from my Instapaper. Today’s suggested reads run the gamut from an update on Nate Silver’s widely-anticipated presence at ESPN to the implications of mobile as the solely growing media platform. Enjoy – and please let me know your thoughts in the Comments.

Is Daniel Ek, Spotify founder, going to save the music industry … or destroy it? The Guardian examines the Swedish entrepreneur, who tells record labels that the best way to survive is to give everything away for free. Most have signed up – but many are yet to be convinced. This quote from Ek, “"Why are we releasing albums the same way as we did 10 years ago? Music is no longer restricted by the format it's on” made me wonder how Spotify’s lessons might be applicable to online publishers.

Business Insider's Henry Blodget tackles the Future of Digital, showing that mobile is the only platform where time is growing. We all know this but how does this change your outlook and where are you focusing? Share your thoughts in the Comments below.

This AdAge piece on AOL’s ad strategy caught my eye – a lot of interesting thoughts around how AOL has structured premium and programmatic to coexist and drive real revenue for their vast volume of content.

Nate Silver is promising data, data, and more data with FiveThirtyEight’s ESPN debut next year according to Neiman Journalism Lab. With that he hopes to push the critical thinking down to the user. We focus every day on the balance between presenting insights and showing deeper data that allows our users to draw additional conclusions. It will be interesting for product teams to learn from the new crop of data journalists as well as how these new disciplines will help the industry push boundaries both on the consumer and business side.

Alexander Howard explores the meaty topic of ethics in data journalism in a great blog post for the Tow Center. As public records go online, what must journalists consider prior to revealing potentially harmful data about the very same public they’re trying to inform?

What articles have caught your eye recently? Share them in the Comments below!

Infographic: A Day in the Life of Web Content

November 1st, 2013 by Kate

Ever wonder what’s going on with all of the web content across the entire Chartbeat network? We wondered too. Questions like, how many articles are being posted online per day and where is all that awesome traffic coming from, kept running through our heads.

So, this Hack Week we gathered our data scientists and got to the bottom of it because we just couldn’t help ourselves. We weren’t disappointed with what we found and we hope you aren’t either.

Click the infographic to see it in its full glory – and please share it with your friends and fellow data nerds!

chartbeat infographic

A Quantitative Turn in Journalism?

October 31st, 2013 by Caitlin

It's easy to get excited about metrics, measuring content effectively, and the related tools and features that accompany these advancements in thinking and strategy. That said, it's always nice to take a step back and think about how journalism in the context of analytics is evolving in a broader sense. Tow Fellow Caitlin Petre frames some interesting ideas about quantifying journalism in her blog post for the Tow Center blog, and we're reposting it here for you all to enjoy. Throw your ideas in the Comments section – we'd love to hear what you're thinking.

This post originally appeared on the Tow Center for Digital Journalism Blog on October 30th, 2013.

Journalists are seeing an explosion of quantitative data about how readers interact with what they write. To date, much of the conversation about metrics and news has focused on the dangers of using metrics to guide news judgment or, on the other hand, the risks of ignoring metrics completely. But crucial empirical questions about how metrics are produced and put to use remain largely unanswered. How do analytics firms measure complex qualities like engagement, make predictions about the future performance of content, and communicate with journalists about the value of metrics? And how do journalists at different types of news organizations use analytics in their day-to-day work? Are increasingly sophisticated measures of stories’ performance shaping journalists’ ideas about what is important, interesting, or newsworthy? Has the availability of such data changed the internal dynamics of news organizations?

These are some of the questions I aim to tackle in my Tow project, using qualitative methods, such as ethnographic observation and in-depth interviews, to better understand the development and use of metrics in an analytics firm and two news organizations. But before I can answer these questions, I have to ask a different one – one that is as dreaded in my field (sociology) as it is common: What is this a case of? Even though researchers have a tendency to become infatuated with the most minute details of our subjects, what we’re ultimately trying to do is identify and account for patterns in the social world. The classic “what is this a case of?” question prods us to zoom out, to put things in context, to consider the broader implications of whatever it is we’re studying.

So, what are metrics a case of? While there is a burgeoning movement to measure journalism – especially non-profit and investigative pieces – more qualitatively, most metrics categorize and count – page views, unique visitors, time on page, drop-off rate – with the aim of comparing things: pieces of content, news organizations, authors, readers. Metrics, and the big data trend of which they are a part, represent what philosopher Ian Hacking calls “an avalanche of numbers” made possible by astonishing advances in the ability of computers to collect, store, and process huge amounts of data. And metrics aren’t the only numbers in the avalanche – more and more journalists are now deriving stories from their analysis of quantitative datasets.

Sociologists Wendy Espeland and Mitchell Stevens have argued that quantification, like speech, is “a social action that…can have many purposes and meanings” that arise and shift through use. Scholars who study quantification have sought to uncover these purposes, meanings, and uses: here are two ideas from their research that can guide our thinking about the role of numbers in the production of contemporary news. The first concerns metrics, the second concerns the growing prevalence of data journalism.

  • Numbers can discipline, even in cases where they aren’t intended to. Michel Foucault famously argued that statistical measures have been used in attempts to control and “normalize” populations that were considered deviant. But sometimes numbers that were meant merely to measure inadvertently serve a disciplining function. U.S. News and World Report’s law school rankings were designed to provide prospective students better information about schools they were considering, but Wendy Espeland and Michael Sauder discovered that law school personnel internalized these measures, and began to change their admissions and financial aid policies to better conform to them. In other cases, however, the implementation of quantitative accountability measures faces considerable resistance and resentment, such as in Tim Hallett’s ethnographic study of the faculty at an urban elementary school. My preliminary research (as well as work by C.W. AndersonPablo Boczkowski, and others) suggests that both internalization and resistance are present in journalists’ response to metrics.
  • Numbers can establish trust where it is lacking. Historian Theodore Porter has argued that because of numbers’ longstanding association with rationality and objectivity, quantification can be a useful “strategy for overcoming…distrust,” especially in professional fields that are susceptible to outside criticism. At a time when public trust in journalism has dropped precipitously, then, we might expect the standards of journalistic evidence to become increasingly quantitative. As Tim Berners-Lee puts it in The Data Journalism Handbook, “it used to be that you would get stories by chatting to people in bars, and it still might be that you’ll do it that way sometimes. But now it’s also going to be about poring over data and equipping yourself with the tools to analyze it and picking out what’s interesting.”

Contemplating the increasingly important role of quantitative data in journalism also leads us to interesting questions about the idea of “objectivity,” and specifically about the relationship between scientific and journalistic definitions of this term: How do they overlap? Where do they conflict? If we are indeed seeing a quantitative turn in journalism, will it push these two conceptions of objectivity to be reconciled? These are questions I’ll address in future posts.

Caitlin Petre is a Tow Fellow working on a project on Metrics:Production and Consumption for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.  The Metrics:Production and Consumption project is made possible by generous funding from both The Tow Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.  To learn more about the Tow Center Fellowship Program, please contact the Tow Center’s Research Director Taylor