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

Posts tagged news aggregators


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.

Apple News in use

Some big news hitting about Apple News – the news reading app that ships with all iOS devices. The Washington Post:

Apple is getting really serious about the publishing business. The company announced Tuesday that it’s rolling out some big new tools for Apple News that can lure more writers and editors to the service — and improve it for current partners, as well.

Just to be clear – anyone can sign up and publish to Apple News, and have been since the start. Here’s One Man & His Blog on there, for example (Link will only work on iOS9 devices). This new move brings us the the ability to publish using the richer Apple News Format stories, though – and access to advertising tools with it. Up until now, only Apple partners have had that level of access – the rest of us have just been pushing RSS feeds into the system.

Big publisher privilege is on the clock

Like Facebook Instant Articles, we’ve had a period of time where the big publishers have had an advantage, but now the playing field suddenly gets more open. Privileged access is clearly a time-limited deal. And it doesn’t look like it’ll be too complicated a process – you can build Apple News Format stories direct in Apple’s interface, or push them from your own CMS. There’s a WordPress plugin for Apple News Format already.

Pending review in Apple News

(With Instant Articles, Accelerated Mobile Pages and now Apple News Format all hitting us in a matter of months – this must be a shitty time to be running your own custom CMS, as that’s a tonne of development work right there. Anyone sitting on top of Drupal, WordPress or their ilk will just drop in a plugin and get on with it…)

Advertising (Apple) News

But that’s not all – Apple is starting pushing News harder with an advertising campaign:

If you’re in San Francisco, Chicago or New York, you might see the ads on billboards and in airports; the rest of you will have to look for it online.

And they look like this:

Apple news ads

Apple’s clearly taking its time on this product – iterating it, feeling its way into how it should work, and then ramping up the focus on it. But hey, at least it’s seeing development – unlike its previous effort Newsstand, which launched, and then languished. The interesting piece is that Apple News feels much more digital than Newsstand ever did – that was very much a print replication, shovelware sort of concept. Apple News feels very natural on iPhones – and iPads in particular.

Apple news on iPad Air

And other information is dribbling out – like the news about a sponsored article format.

Apple News certainly doesn’t feel like a “must publish” platform just yet – but it sure as hell feels like something any publisher should be watching carefully.