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

Posts tagged blog platforms

Ever since Ghost – the lightweight publishing platform – looked like it would actually happen, co-founder John O’Nolan has been talking about it facilitating journalism. And he’s been putting Ghost’s resources where his mouth is – several students of mine have had free Ghost(pro) accounts for the length of their studies, and one group ran a site on it for the (now defunct) online journalism module at City.

Ghost is taking that commitment a whole step further, as they announced today, with Ghost for Journalism:

Journalism by Ghost

We’ve created the very first Ghost Journalism Development program to find and work with three great new publications.

Our goal is to find three fantastic new publishers to work with and help them grow their audiences throughout 2017, as we build out these features (and others) explicitly around their needs. In addition, we’ll be offering up $45,000 in Ghost(Pro) credit, along with access to our internal tools, data, and technology partners.

This is basically an offer to become your hosting and technology team for a year, for free. That’s your second biggest cost – after people – out of the equation for the first year of a journalism startup. That’s huge.

Scaring up some revenue for journalism

What’s the other major problem with a journalism startup? Revenue, of course. That’s why Medium is taking a step back to explore it – and Ghost wants to work with its partners in this scheme to help figure out some useful models. And they’re willing to put development time behind it. The major next step in the platform’s development is around making money from your content.

Ghost has three priorities:

  1. Memberships: Logged-in experiences for visitors & better data for publishers
  2. Subscriptions: Content delivered directly to readers, wherever they are
  3. Payments: Integrations to allow publishers to build new revenue models

All three of these are direct revenue models that could potentially help support niche sites – and the future is niche sites, unless you have truly massive scale. I’ve been planning a switch to Ghost for a while, and this is even more of an incentive for me to just get on with it. I’ve been keen to launch a membership model for this site, providing deeper analysis for busy people in journalism, in a model not unlike that of Ben Thompson’s Stratechery – which i subscribe to and read avidly – and this has the potential to turn Ghost into a one stop shop for those sorts of business models.

Why is Ghost getting itself enmeshing in one of the biggest challenges for journalism in such a public way? I asked John, and this is what he said:

So many reasons. But really it all boils down to one core truth: No amount of features or good design for a platform matter if journalists aren’t getting paid.

Can’t argue with that.

By no means am I suggesting that we have the all in one solution to fixing that problem, but providing a platform which independent journalists can build on top of to easily take payments directly – is solid a prerequisite to anything else.

Being able to build something like TheInformation or Stratechery is something which should be widely available, easy to set up, and free from the impending fear of a VC-backed overlord shutting it down. That’s the goal 🙂

Indeed, the aim of building something new – with new revenue models – pretty much demands that you adopt a really tight approach to costs. And if what you’re selling is content – and the intelligence that underlies it – technology’s main job is to facilitate that, not to be a competitive advantage that you spend huge sums on developing. That’s a mistake we need to stop making.

The sort of journalism Ghost is looking for

If you’re interested, here’s the sorts of startups they’re looking for:

  • Local, political, social, cultural and investigative reporting
  • Scientific, economic and philosophical analysis
  • Journalism about journalism (ooo meta)
  • Memberships, subscriptions & audience engagement
  • New revenue models for journalism
  • Use of emerging tech like chatbots, data, VR & APIs

Don’t hang around though – you’ve got around a month – but it looks like people have been pretty interested in the announcement:

Once you’ve got an idea and team, applications close on February 15th.

Things I didn’t know:

News UK moved thesun.co.uk to WordPress.com VIP last summer, becoming the fastest growing newspaper site in the UK, with well over 20 million monthly unique visitors, and tens of millions of page views every week. They recently added Scottish and Irish editions within a WordPress multisite configuration, all managed using the same innovative extension to the WordPress Customiser. WordPress is fast becoming an important part of News Corp’s worldwide publishing infrastructure, powering more and more sites in the US, India and Australia, as well as in the UK.

It’s a smart move – I’ve been a huge advocate of using off-the-shelf blogging platforms for mainstream news sites for over a decade, and it’s nice to see it becoming increasingly established as a mainstream approach.

It’s really cost-effective compared to many other approaches – and The Sun could do with some cost-savings right now

Medium, the blogging platform created by Ev Williams, has just take on a big new chunk of investment:

Medium, the publishing platform hatched by Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, has raised $57 million in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz.
It’s the three-year-old company’s second funding round, and people familiar with Medium say it places a $400 million pre-money valuation on the startup.

Those figures alone are interesting (but then, a bet on the guy who co-founded both Blogger and Twitter doesn’t seem like a bad bet, does it?). But just as interesting are the figures quotes on content creators and users:

Content creators:

Williams and Medium are famously averse to talking about metrics, so the only one you’ll find there is that 20,000 people are creating Medium posts each week; Doyle tells Re/code that that number is up 4x in the last year.

Users:

In May, Medium said it was attracting 25 million unique visitors a month.

That puts Medium squarely back in the old model of a “superuser” community, where the 90/9/1 rule of “lurkers/occasional posters/superusers” applies. Not a surprise, pehaps, given that Medium is at its best with long form content, and only a proportion of people are ever motivated enough to write long form.

The interesting bit is that, by riding on top of Twitter’s social graph, AND creating an internal social graph derived from that, Medium is making it much easier for new or occasional writers to find audiences.

My own experience is that putting a post on Medium brings me less traffic than a post here – but this blog has been going well over a decade and I have an established audience. Medium’s social features are far more useful to an emereging writer looking to find some readers.

It’s going to be very interesting to watch how this develops – and how they monetise.

Here’s an actual product moving overseas thanks to the UK government’s moves on digital privacy (as opposed to a notional one):

The UK’s newly elected Conservative government recently pledged to scrap the Human Rights Act – which includes trivial rights such as “respect for your private and family life” and “freedom of expression”. The Netherlands, by contrast, has some of the strongest privacy laws in the world, with real precedents of hosting companies successfully rejecting government requests for data without full and legal paperwork.

Ghost is much written about in these parts – and may well be the future home of this blog.

The move isn’t just about the political situation – it’s driven by a hosting partnership with Digital Ocean – but it’s interesting to note nonetheless.

If you’re reading this, I’ve pulled off a technical challenge I’ve been putting off for years – literally years – now. This blog is now running on WordPress, rather than Movable Type.

It’s not been an easy move – and I’ll outline the process in another post – but it’s now complete, and this site is living on a new host, running new software in the background. And I’m excited to get blogging with the new setup.

Here’s why I moved.

Movable Type: big in Japan

Movable Type, contrary to popular belief, is not dead. It’s alive, well and still being developed by Six Apart – which is now a Japanese company. However, in the English-language world it’s largely being targeted at the corporate and professional market, with a price tag to match:

Movable Type price

So, I’m not moving because it’s dead. But I am partially moving because I don’t want to pay more than £300 every couple of years for a new version of the software. The advantages MT offers don’t outweigh the price difference between free and £300.

The need to experiment

I’m also moving because my web host was getting more and more grumpy about me running it on their servers, and I came to the conclusion that if I was going to go to the bother of shifting hosts, I might as well shift platforms as well. Because, as alive as MT might be, it’s not well-supported. Try finding themes for it. Or new plugins. Or even other web services that support talking to its API. They’re becoming vanishingly rare.

Increasingly, being tied to MT was stopping me experimenting with new tools, and I don’t like that feeling. Part of the joy of blogging for me has always been in the experimental aspects of it – playing with new pieces of software, and figuring out how they might help me publish better. To keep that feeling, I needed to move on from the comfy familiarity of a blog platform I’d been using for over a decade.

Five years ago, much of my working life centered around MT. No more. I have no clients using it, and a whole bunch of them working on WordPress. I really need to understand it much more deeply than I do – which is why my most-used blog needs to be on it. If nothing else, that will force me to explore its quirks and advantages.

And I’m just one of many sites making the move.

My Ghost-ly future

That, incidentally, is why I’m on WordPress rather than the platform I suspect I’ll move to next – Ghost. Ghost is still very young, and needs some more development before I can switch. But I value this time getting to know WordPress, too.

So, there we are. New One Man & His Blog, living in WordPress and hosted on WPEngine.

What do you think?

Marked: a blogging platform

Competition is good. For far too long WordPress has had too little competition as a blogging platform. This is no knock on WordPress: I’m a big fan. But competition drives innovation, and I’m always keen to see new ideas flourish, especially in blogging and publishing platforms. That’s why I was an early backer of Ghost, and remain a keen user and observer as it develops towards the 1.0 release.

And it’s also why I just backed Typed:

I’m a big fan of their Markdown writing app of the same name, which is great for getting long-form writing done in a distraction-free way. Plus, they’re a local business to me, and I like supporting local businesses, as the coffee shop I’m writing this in can attest:

Blogging in Tom Foolery

I have a friend working at RealMac, whom I’ve spent some time in the past discussing blogging platforms with. (I’m now wondering if there was an…agenda…behind those chats. 😉 ) He gave me a heads-up about this a couple of hours ago, which is why I’m right in there at the beginning.

Mobile era blogging

Using Typed on an iPhone

I’m doing increasing amounts of blogging directly from mobile, and that’s almost certainly the future for many people, as mobile switches to being our default mode of accessing the internet. Typed is designed to be mobile-friendly from the outset, which is one of the reason I’m so interested in new blog platforms. The mobile interfaces for existing platforms, including Movable Type, which is what lurks under here, and retrofits on top of platforms that emerged long before mobile become a thing. They’re good, but not as intuitive as they could be.

I’m really interested to see what kind of UI ideas emerge in platforms built for the mobile age, both with my blogger and journalist hats on. The mobile phone is one of the most profoundly useful tools to emerge for journalism, and I’m really excited to see what happens when our publishing platforms start supporting it as their centre, not an add-on.

Backing Typed

Full details of what Realmac have planned for Typed are on their Typed Indiegogo page. It’s a flexible funding project – which means that it will go ahead, however much funding they get. But there’s some pretty good deals there on access to the platform for periods of time, so take a look, if it sounds like something you’d like to publish with.

Movable Typ 6

Jason Snell:

So does it matter that I use Movable Type on this site? Probably not, since the entire point of the site is the content on the pages, not how it was made. It strikes me, though, that the analogy of software being like pop music is even more apt than I thought. In the App Store, we see apps that become hits and climb the charts. Is this because it’s a natural way to think of software, or because the iTunes infrastructure was built for music sales and then adapted to cover software too?

I was flabbergasted to learn via an excellent recent episode of The Talk Show that Jason Snell, late of Macworld, had launched his indie site Six Colors on Movable Type, the all-but-forgotten blog platform that runs this site. But he makes some excellent points, not least that:

  1. It still works great
  2. If you know how to use it, why shift?
  3. It has a database format that makes it relatively easy to get content out, if you ever do need to move.

Old software has its place, within limits. I can’t help loving this analogy, though:

Not only is Movable Type uncool (the equivalent of ’80s hair metal), but the language it’s written in, Perl, is supremely uncool. Like, New Kids on the Block uncool.

Well, that explains it. It matches my taste in music perfectly…