Info

A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Apple dropped some new kit this morning – a red iPhone, a better iPad (non-Pro), and some watch bands.

Oh, and a social video making app:

Apple today introduced Clips, a new app that makes it quick and fun for anyone to create expressive videos on iPhone® and iPad®. The app features a unique design for combining video clips, photos and music into great-looking videos to share with friends through the Messages app, or on Instagram, Facebook and other popular social networks.

One interesting touch for mojos on the go:

With Live Titles in Clips, users can add animated captions and titles using just their voice. Captions are generated automatically as a user speaks, and appear on screen perfectly synced with the user’s voice. Users can mix and match different styles, and tap any title to adjust text and punctuation, or even add inline emoji. Live Titles supports 36 different languages.

It’s not available to download quite yet – it will be out in April. But it looks like it could be a very handy tools for journalists working on social video quickly from the field. Look for a full review next month.

This afternoon, I took a little light mockery from a friend for posting a Facebook update that looks like this:

Colour facebook post

He had assumed I was algorithm-gaming by posting my update as an image, not text. But I wasn’t. Instead, while making the post, I’d discovered a button in the interface I hadn’t had access to before:

Facebook colour options

This stirred a distant memory: it was announced and rolled out on Android back in December:

Colored status backgrounds are rolling out globally over the next few days. Only Android users will be able to create them, but everyone on iOS, Android, and web will be able to see them in the News Feed.

A spokesperson writes “We’re rolling out a change to help people make their text posts more visual. Starting today, people can update the background color of their text-only posts on Android.”

The Android experiment was clearly successful enough that the rollout is slowly happening to the web – some of my friends have it, others don’t. And it certainly gives short text updates more “oomph” in the feed, without being as ugly as the “huge font” short updates were. Using colours is a smart move, both through being eye-catching and because they’re emotionally resonant, which is the secret to making anything work in the feed.

But will it be enough to get people sharing personal information again?

Techmeme

Has our lust for innovation made us move on from ideas too quickly? I’ve been mulling that over for most of the day, since I read Charlie Wurzel’s long piece on Gabe Rivera and Techmeme. Unless you’re a blogger of a certain vintage, you’re probably thinking “who?” right now. And that’s fine – he runs a niche site, but a hugely influential niche site:

Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai are both confessed readers, as are LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner, former PayPal exec and current Facebook Messenger head David Marcus, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella. Hunter Walk, a former product manager at YouTube turned seed-stage venture capitalist, told me he checks the site three to five times daily. “It’s one of my first morning sites,” he told me over email. “My perception is that lots of us [in Silicon Valley] use it.”

Techmeme is that most-old fashioned of digital things, an aggregator. It makes editorial decisions with algorithmic support over what the most important stories of the day are – and then links to all the discussion around that core story. That combination – of ranking and connection – is utterly compelling and all too little replicated anywhere else.

There are many people trying to find ways of surfacing the “best” or “most important” stories of the day – usually through algorithms, although I still favour the human-curated element through either newsletters or (whisper it) blogs. In many ways, it’s the second element of Techmeme – that’s so interesting – connecting together the conversations.

Conversational connectivity

Techmeme at work

In digital content circle, we talk a lot about “content atomisation”, the idea that the publishing packages of the past have been atomised into individual articles found via search or social. In a sense, what Techmeme does is reconnect those atoms into molecules of news, allowing you to track not just the most popular articles, but to explore the interconnections between them and other articles, which respond to them or follow them up. Thos connections both inform the ratings, but also guide to the reader into the broader context of the story.

It’s such a compelling idea that I’m surprised that nobody is really working on it in any other way. A decade back, the blog platform makers were really interested in connecting up conversations online. That led to the advent of standards like Trackback and Pingback, both of which got steadily buried under ever-increasing volumes of spam. And, to add to the woes, much of the discussion around any single article is now buried away in private spaces like Facebook.

But still, it seems a strange gap in the technology of the web that it’s surprisingly hard for the casual reader to easily find responses and follow-ups to something they’ve read.

And, it seems to me, that such a system might be a very handy tool in the war on intentionally misleading news.

The Telegraph on Apple News

The Telegraph is seeing substantial reader growth – from Apple News:

For The Telegraph, Apple News has become the most effective third-party platform at driving readers to its own sites and app — where it can eventually turn them into subscribers.

(Note the contrast here to Facebook, which is doing everything it can to keep you in the Instant Articles walled garden.)

Two anecdotes that seem to bear this out:

  1. I’m getting about an extra day’s worth of traffic a week from Apple News (you can sub to One Man & His Blog there, should you wish.)
  2. My wife – a Facebook refusenik – now uses Apple News as her major news-reading interface.

Something’s happening here.

The Need for Notifications

Another interesting point in the piece:

“The main growth has been driven by the iOS10 update and a combination of our new strategy,” said Bridge. Several publishers recorded traffic increases since the iOS10 update last year, partly because of the introduction of notifications. “In the modern age, people look to consume content through notifications. That doesn’t mean they will always open them and click through.”

For breaking news – you need to have a notification strategy, but one that doesn’t get your notifications switched off.

Issue 16 of Offscreen magazine is now available. It’s a beautiful print magazine all about the digital industry, which I’ve been happily reading for the last couple of years. If you’re interested in online, but still a lover of great print magazines, it’s well worth a look. (I mentioned it in passing a few months back.)

The new issue is a complete redesign, and the editor Kai Brach supported himself through the redesign and rebrand phase, via crowdfunding (I was a backer). And this is how it looks:

Offscreen 16 cover

Offscreen 16 laid flat

A typical Offscreen spread

Here’s what’s different:

Both the website and the magazine have undergone a complete visual overhaul. The new design comes with a lighter footprint, thanks to simplified typography (just one type family), more white space, a brighter colour scheme, and quirky, hand-drawn illustrations by Agnes Lee that add a personal touch.

We made the new issue a little smaller so it feels even more like a book. Instead of the standard Perfect Binding that makes the magazine hard to keep open, Offscreen now has an open, lay-flat stitch binding that offers an improved reading experience.

I should get my copy sometime next week. You can grab your copy from the Offscreen website (and you can sign up for a subscription, too), or buy it in person via specialist magazine stores like Magculture in London or Magazine Brighton.

There’s a new journalism aggregator in town, called Compass – and it’s attempting to be a Netflix for news.

Compass News - the app

Isolde Walters spoke to Matilde Giglio about the subscription-based app:

It’s a bit like your Facebook timeline but instead of that girl you used to go to school with who is in the Caribbean yet again and endless dog videos, it’s all serious quality journalism. Maybe a little too serious. One criticism I would make is the selection of heavy political and economic news did make me feel like I was running through the reading list of a PPE undergrad. I’d recommend a little thoughtful fluff – I’m a big believer in fluff – to add a little glamour and human interest to the mix.

That’s a smart insight. Any product like this that only surfaces serious news will fail, because the market for serious news and only serious news is too damn small. Can you show me any major newspaper or magazine that doesn’t have a lighter element? Chances are if you can, it’s a “need” publication – trade press, scientific journals – rather than a choice publication.

A Netflix for news could work. But a Netflix for only serious news? Never.

A little context here: there have been numerous efforts to build something like this before. They’ve been described, variously, as “an iTunes for news” or a “Spotify for news“. We’re on to “Netflix for news” now. There was News International’s much-rumoured attempt to build an iTunes for news, before abandoning it and going for paywalls. There’s Blendle which is still around. There’s magazine subscription apps like Issuu.

I suspect they struggle because they’re caught between the opposing poles of loyalty to a particular news brand (through political, cultural or geographic affiliation) and the free flow of news through Facebook and Twitter. Best of luck to Compass – they’ll need it.

Any one paying attention to journalism right now knows that misinformation, disinformation and “fake news” are becoming a more significant part of our cultural landscape. Luckily, we have some very skilled people working to deal with these issue.

Eliot Higgins

In particular, Eliot Higgins and the organisation he founded – Bellingcat – have been doing stellar work around user content from conflict zones, and debunking propaganda. They’re reliant on funding donations – so if you’re serious about fact-checking and journalism, please consider bunging a few quid their way as part of their latest Kickstarter:

There are rewards on offer, including mugs, t-shirts and exclusive posters by the artist Molly Crabapple:

Molly Crabapple art

You can back them on Kickstarter – and if you want to know more, one of my Interactive Journalism MA students, Ella Wilks-Harper, interviewed Eliot Higgins for Interhacktives.

The New York Times has redesigned the opening spread of the print edition to make it more of a digest of everything the outlet is doing across all media. So, yes, that include capturing the best of its journalists’ tweetstorms on there. Laura Hazard Owen interviewed Jake Siverstein who led the design work:

But we also recognized that there were some important functions this page could play — not only warming people up but offering a dashboard of the huge scope of activity that’s going on in the world of The New York Times on any given day. That scope has expanded in recent years to take in not only what’s happening in the print paper and videos and podcasts and various institutional social media accounts, but also our live journalism, and all of our journalists’ own social media accounts.

This is a tentative step in the direction pint newspapers will need to move if they are to survive, in the era of 24/7 online news. Once you acknowledge that the print edition is no longer the “breaking news” vehicle, but, essentially, a daily summary of what you need to know, then you can design outwards from that idea.

Why newspapers should take design cues from magazines

Interestingly, Silverstein comes from the New York Times Magazine (he’s editor-in-chief) – and this is much more magazine thinking than newspaper thinking. Silverstein again:

Part of the goal was to create something that was entirely visible in one open spread of the newspaper, that used some of the rhythm and pacing and design of a magazine front-of-book — the difference being that the whole front-of-book is laid out before you turn any pages, so your eyes can wander around small content and small features, latch on to one thing and then drift over to the next thing. There’s something leisurely and pleasurable about that. It’s kind of an appetizer course before you get to the rest of the paper.

And that’s what print newspapers are becoming: daily magazines.