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

Posts tagged news

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.

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.

Medium
Medium is rejecting chronology as the key way it presents potential reading material to users:

Our goals are different: we want to give you great stuff to read. We have tens of thousands of great pieces already written on Medium, and the vast majority of them are just as relevant today as the day they were written. In some cases, a few months may even have made them better.

Anyway, reading the news doesn’t make us any smarter.

This makes a lot of sense. Paper publishing tied us to the value of the new because we were literally publishing a new issue every day/week/month. Anyone who has done any serious metrics work on publishers’ sites will have seen just how much traffic goes to “archive” content.

Medium is designing itself around that fact. Interesting approach.

Well, reason 9 of many:

Attempt to find the story you wanted to read using a layout and information architecture that’s completely different from the layout and information architecture of the website that you’ve grown familiar with, because some arsehole decided that the process of reading the electronic equivalent of a newspaper needs to be “disrupted” because he’s been reading far too much Seth Godin or some other bullshit.

There’s room for news apps out there – but his very final point is the killer:

Apps ought to provide some actual functionality, not just blobs of content wrapped up in binary files.

Andy Boyle:

It’s time to stop bifurcating your content as blogs and news because they run on separate systems. It is all content, so why not call it that? Even if you have outside people writing posts on your website that are unmoderated by your staff — that’s still content that’s part of your media outlet’s website. I don’t have any research proving this, but in my short journalism career many media outlets just slapped the name “blog” on something because it lived in a different CMS. We should stop this. Please.

No, we shouldn’t.

Blogs aren’t just about the technology. Blogs are about tone of voice, an approach to community-focused publishing, linking and focus. You can deliver news through a blog, sure, but you won’t be doing it in the same way you do traditional news.

He’s essentially arguing that we should stop calling newspapers by that name, and call them all magazines, because hey, they’re all printed on folded paper, right?

If people are separating “blogs” and “news” purely on technology, then yes, they’re idiots. (It’s also another category error. You can deliver news through blogs, but not blogs through news. See?)  However, if they don’t understand the distinctions between the two media, and perceive them all as a mish-mash of content, they they don’t understand the subtleties of either medium.

 

twintowers.jpg

I had a working lunch on Wardour Street. It was with some residential property dot.com or other – I forget which one now. We walked back into the Estates Gazette office to find most of the team gathered around the (rarely used) TV in the corner. I made some joke to a colleague, and got snapped at. Something was clearly up. Nobody seemed very interested in telling me what, so intent were they in watching the TV. 
I learnt pretty much all I was to learn that day from the internet. The already-slugginsh BBC website gave me the basics, but it was an invitation-only internet chat room that I’d been a member of for several years that told me the rest. It was through an MPEG file that someone threw up on their own server that I first saw footage of the plane hitting the tower. It was in that chat that I first encountered the name “Al Qaida”, which I had never heard before. 
And the, on the TV, I watched a building I’d stood at the foot of a year before, in awe of its sure size and scale, collapse. 
I don’t remember anything else about that day. But why should I? The horror of that event, the shock that shot around the world, were the beginning of three months that literally changed my life. But that day, I was just another of the billions of horrified onlookers on a day that changed the world.
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