Better ways to level the playing field?

Featuring an interview with a friend and inspiration, Sunny Singh (follow her on Twitter), this TES piece on the pressure ethnic minority women are put under is well worth a read – because this isn’t just an issue in academia. And it’s all too easy for those of us from majority / privileged backgrounds to miss the signs of imbalance and unfairness that we can contribute to even when trying to do the right...

Newer isn’t always better – or necessary

This is a decent short piece in Inc. about Oprah Winfrey’s podcast strategy – basically mining her archive of TV shows for audio highlights – with some simple yet sensible advice for this age of ephemeral experiences: “Good content is good content. No matter how old it is… Get creative and find ways to adapt that content to be relevant for… new audiences, and put it in front of them.” That “get creative” part is key, though. Older content  is likely to only have nuggets of still-relevant gold that will need careful mining and potentially refining for different formats, audiences, and purposes. Remember: Not everything has to be explicitly about today’s perceived front-of-mind issues to be relevant and interesting. There’s a reason Dale Carnegie continues to be a bestselling author in the business books category 75 years after his death. Good insights are good insights. Approached with the right mindset, old white papers, transcripts of conference speeches, case studies, surveys – even LinkedIn posts – could become a treasure trove of inspiration for creating something similar but different to engage new people on new platforms and in new formats. Content marketing is, after all, about effective presentation of the content as well as the brand. And content ultimately succeeds based on *its* content –  ideas and their presentation. And there is *always* more than one way to present an...

The endless battle against “garbage language”

Complaining about nonsense business-speak may be futile, but this piece – a review of a memoir about life in startup land – does a good job of summing up why spewing out business bullshit is not just intellectually offensive, but actively harmful: “I like Anna Wiener’s term for this kind of talk: garbage language. It’s more descriptive than corporate speak or buzzwords or jargon. Corporatespeak is dated; buzzword is autological, since it is arguably an example of what it describes; and jargon conflates stupid usages with specialist languages that are actually purposeful, like those of law or science or medicine. Wiener’s garbage language works because garbage is what we produce mindlessly in the course of our days and because it smells horrible and looks ugly… “But unlike garbage, which we contain in wastebaskets and landfills, the hideous nature of these words — their facility to warp and impede communication — is also their purpose. Garbage language permeates the ways we think of our jobs and shapes our identities as workers. It is obvious that the point is concealment; it is less obvious what so many of us are trying to hide.” In short, if your ideas are good, don’t bury them in garbage. If they’re not, the presence of garbage is a good...

Taking digital to print can make sense

Great to see a copy of the Culture Trip magazine in the flesh on Eurostar. A slick, matt finish cover and perfect-bound spine screams quality, while the prominence of adverts for other Culture Trip formats (and lack of much other advertising) reveals this to be a piece of brand awareness marketing more than just a shift to a new, retro format for an established digital publisher. Getting a travel magazine on Eurostar is quite the distribution coup as well – finely targeted to a (likely) receptive audience. I’d not be surprised to see more digital ventures going physical for ad hoc print editions like this in the coming years. The shift towards longform and digital editions, the revival of vinyl, plus the growth in sales of physical books and independent publications suggests a rising demand for tactile, physical content formats alongside the convenience of digital. With good design and production values, a print magazine or book can be something to both treasure and show off – a powerful, prestigious tool for driving brand loyalty. Don’t get me wrong – digital is great. But every format is worth considering in the marketing mix – if it’s got potential to drive results rather than being mere...

New post on LinkedIn: Big data and marketing

Inspired by a piece comparing the creative side of marketing with the more business-focused obsession with data and ROI. The short version? “Rather than worry about big ideas vs targeting, what the marketing industry really needs to learn how to do is revive the art of the soft sell and the long tail. That’s the more human way of building relationships that last – but to work it needs a significantly more nuanced understanding of how people will be interacting with you than I’ve seen from pretty much any modern brand marketing campaign.” Read the full thing on...

What I’ve been working on for the past year

Here it is. The new, multiplatform MSN. Engadget has a solid overview piece. The content proposition is fairly straightforward – a customisable mix of useful tools and the best content from many of the world’s biggest publishing brands across a bunch of key topic areas or verticals, curated by teams of in-market editors. The aim on a technical level is actually the most interesting part of it – we’ve been developing a cloud-hosted CMS that enables single-publish across all devices and platforms, for both web and apps, running across 55 markets in 27 languages, with a coherent look and feel no matter your screen size or operating system. That’s properly ambitious. Most of my input has been procedural (improving multimarket and multiplatform publishing processes) and hidden in the back end (I was part of the CMS superuser group that’s been working on back-end UX and workflow). I’ve not had as much involvement in the front-end design, architecture, or overall content strategy as I’d like, but still – a most definite improvement on one of the web’s longest-running major publishers (20 years old this year, and still doing a good 22 billion pageviews every...

Please keep Twitter pure

The filtered feeds of Facebook (and LinkedIn) are the things I dislike most about them, the unfiltered most recent first approach of Twitter what I love about it, so this possibility that Twitter’s going down the algorithmic-filter route worries me – and not just because of recent concerns voiced over how algorithms can affect net neutrality and news reporting. I very much hope Twitter at least retains the option of turning on the firehose, though I fully get the need to tame the chaos with some kind of algo or filter to pull in new users. Not everyone can get to grips with lists and Tweetdeck – too confusing for the newcomer. Now don’t get me wrong: algorithmic filtering has its place. One of my favourite apps is Zite, and I was an early adoptor of StumbleUpon (well over a decade ago) – precisely because of their ability to get to know my interests and serve me up interesting content from sources I’d usually not discover by myself. For Facebook to offer up this kind of service, with its vast databases of its users’ Likes, makes perfect sense (though I’d still prefer a raw feed, or category feeds, so I can split off news about the world from news about my actual friends – a new baby or a wedding is not the same as a terrorist attack). This is why I love Twitter – it is raw, unfiltered. And at 140 characters a pop, it’s (more or less) manageable. Especially if these old stats are still accurate, suggesting the majority of Twitter users only follow around 50 other...

The “Netflix of News” and the death of the publishing brand

I loved the concept when I first heard about it, and love that it seems to be working. Proof of concept done – now it’s time to take that concept and expand. Preferably globally. In short, it’s a cunning system that allows you to pay for individual articles from publications, thus avoiding the constant fustration of not being able to read that great piece from the likes of the FT, Times or Economist because it’s hiding behind a paywall. If this sort of thing takes off, it could be a whole new business-model – making paywalls more viable, while allowing monetisable ways around them. But there’s also an interesting quote from Blendle’s founder: “People want to read articles or want to follow specific journalists but aren’t particularly interested in the newspaper that it comes from anymore.” This is especially true in the age of social, where URL-shorteners are so endemic that half the time you have no idea which site you’ll end up on. I’ve got used to reading content that’s been de-branded via a hefty RSS addiction. That’s been replaced in recent years with an addiction to aggregation apps like Zite, Flipboard and Feedly, where what matters is the content itself, not the packaging, or where it’s from. If the content is good enough, it will stand on its own – it won’t need to hide behind the brand. In fact, the brand can sometimes be a disadvantage, because it leads to preconceptions that can skew the reader’s opinion before they’ve even started to read a piece. There are some publications I avoid simply because I assume that...

Numbers are our friends

Useful look at how detailed, adaptable, *tailored* performance data (and people who know how to analyse and explain it) is essential if you want to be successful in modern media. As so often, Buzzfeed seems to be ahead of the curve. It never ceases to amaze how often online publishers get het up about the wrong metrics. Tools like Omniture are obscenely powerful, yet all we tend to use them for is to find PVs, UUs, occasionally time spent, and sometimes how particular headlines are performing. Used properly, web analytics can help us keep our sites in a state of constant evolution, adapting to the tiniest shifts in user behaviour through minor design/code tweaks. This isn’t about becoming Keanu Reeves and learning how to read the Matrix – it’s just knowing how to use the tools that are available to...

Journalistic quality vs the money men

Useful study on metrics vs journalistic pride, but leaves out a key aspect: the sales guys – because this is how the money is made and the metrics are ultimately determined. Time was, quality audiences would be worth more to advertisers than quantity. Why hasn’t online ad selling (and buying) caught up yet? Only when it does will there be incentive to move beyond page views and unique users as the key metric. Programmatic ad sales could be the answer, or could worsen the situation further – too early to tell. Anyway, worth a read: “Online media is made of clicks. Readers click from one article to the next. Advertising revenue is based on the number of unique visitors for each site. Editors always keep in mind their traffic targets to secure the survival of their publications. Writers and bloggers interpret clicks as a signal of popularity. The economic realities underpinning the click-based web are well documented. Yet much work remains to be done on the cultural consequences of the growing importance of Internet metrics. I conducted two years of ethnographic research (observing newsrooms and interviewing journalists, editors, and bloggers) exploring whether web analytics are changing newsroom cultures. The answer is a qualified yes, but in ways that differ from the ones we might...

Twitter launches analytics

Twitter Analytics will be fun and useful, but why no ability to sort by best/worst performers? How can we tell what does/doesn’t work if we can’t see what does/doesn’t work? Intro here. Analytics themselves here (you need to activate before you’ll start seeing...

Vox to open their CMS up to everyone?

Oh yes please! I’m a massive CMS geek, yet in well over a decade and a half of online publishing, I still haven’t found one I truly adore. Mid-period Wordpress came close, but now it’s too complex and chunky. Buzzfeed’s seems decent, from what I’ve seen. The one they have at ITV News looks great, from the screenshots. But I hear truly great things about the Vox Chorus CMS....

A golden age for journalism

Lots to agree with here: “by some measures, journalism has never been healthier. And there’s every reason to believe that it is actually getting stronger because of the web, not weaker — regardless of what’s happening to print” Are jobs being lost? Yep. Are publications shutting down? Yep. But are readers getting more of what they want? Yep. My only worry with this optimistic take on the current situation is that, despite years of worrying about it, and over a decade of confident assertions that hyperlocal “citizen journalism” will fill the void left as uneconomic newspapers shut down, there is still a major risk that many communities will be left without a reliable source of local news coverage. I’m based in London, so there are any number of hyperlocal Twitter accounts and small blogs covering the area, but none of these are comprehensive, even combined, and few have the skills or abilities to dig deeper into what’s going on in the local council. Local newspapers were never especially economically worthwhile, but they did (well, sometimes) provide a valuable public service in holding local government to account – something they were only really able to do because of the level of access they were afforded by their permanent, professional position. On a local level, as local papers shut, the most common publication to fill the void isn’t a blogger, it’s an official local government publication – we’re replacing public service for...

This is the most important thing about clickbait you’ll read today*

* assuming you don’t read anything else about clickbait today This article focuses on content produced by content marketers, but applies just as much to regular publishers who are constantly trying to ride the latest wave of social media fads to suck in a few unsuspecting punters with low-rent, instantly-forgettable clickbait. Short, cheap, trend-driven / fast-turnaround content may well help you hit short-term engagement metrics, but will long-term kill audience retention: “The internet is ballooning with fluff, and bad content marketing is to blame. In our obsession with ‘engaging’ our ‘audience’ in ‘real-time’ with ‘targeted content’ that goes ‘viral,’ we are driving people insane… When a publishing agenda is too ambitious, people can’t afford to shoot anything down… They’re under too much pressure to fill… slots” I particularly like the concept of “click-flu” – the sense of annoyance and disappointment you get (both with the content and, more importantly, with yourself) when you click on a clickbaity link, and the page you end up on fails to deliver on its hyperbolic promise. The resentment builds and builds – and over time, leads to hatred of the people who lured you in time and again. If you make a big promise, as so many of these “This is the most important thing you will see today” clickbaity headlines do, you’d damned well better live up to...

Who’s the competition in the future of news?

People are starting to fully wake up to this now – in the mobile-first age, competitors are no longer just other publishers, it’s *everything*, so we all need to start thinking bigger. Good piece as ever from Mathew Ingram on Gigaom: “very few news apps take advantage of the qualities of a smartphone — things like GPS geo-targeting, which could use the location of a reader to augment the information they are getting, the way the Breaking News app does. Or the brain inside the phone itself, which could compute how long it took a reader to get through a story, how many times they returned to it, what other news they’ve been consuming, and so on:” A number of sites and apps have started to do *some* of this, but very few have managed to pull it all together. Give it a couple of years, and we may finally have a *properly* disruptive news delivery system that combines the best of everything. Combined with increasingly intelligent algorithms and reams of data on individual user preferences, this could get rid of the need for editor selecting stories altogether. But despite ongoing experiments in code-written stories, to do this really well will still take humans producing the copy and vetting the info. The journalist isn’t obsolete...

The future of the newspaper

Worth a read: “the future of the daily newspaper is one of the few certainties in the current landscape: Most of them are going away, in this decade”

Algorithms and the news agenda

Well worth a read on the Feguson riots, and how different social media sites (notably Twitter vs Facebook) served up news about them: “Now, we expect documentation, live-feeds, streaming video, real time Tweets… [Ferguson] unfolded in real time on my social media feed which was pretty soon taken over by the topic… And then I switched to non net-neutral Internet to see what was up. I mostly have a similar a composition of friends on Facebook as I do on Twitter. Nada, zip, nada. This morning, though, my Facebook feed is also very heavily dominated by discussion of Ferguson. Many of those posts seem to have been written last night, but I didn’t see them then. Overnight, “edgerank” –or whatever Facebook’s filtering algorithm is called now?—?seems to have bubbled them up, probably as people engaged them more. But I wonder: what if Ferguson had started to bubble, but there was no Twitter to catch on nationally? Would it ever make it through the algorithmic filtering on Facebook? Maybe, but with no transparency to the decisions, I cannot be sure. Would Ferguson be buried in algorithmic censorship? Would we even have a chance to see her? This isn’t about Facebook per se—maybe it will do a good job, maybe not—but the fact that algorithmic filtering, as a layer, controls what you see on the Internet. Net neutrality (or lack thereof) will be yet another layer determining this. This will come on top of existing inequalities in attention, coverage and control.” It’s a continual worry – how to ensure we see what’s important? Though, of course, the concept is nothing new...

Web writing, hate reading, and the decline of quality

Nothing new, but this is worth a read on web writing and hate-reading – that old trick of being as controversial as possible in order to get an extreme response, purely because extremes get more attention, and in a pageview-driven business model, controversy is seen as good purely because, based on the metrics, it’s the controversial stuff that’s driving engagement. This infantile attitude of provocation to get attention is increasingly being combined with ream upon ream of cheap content, because the more content you’ve got, the more potential PVs you can attract. We end up with the most depressing (and false) equation of online publishing: Cheap content + Controversy = Clicks = Cash It’s an attitude that’s lazy *and* massively short-termist in thinking – over the long term, quality can and should trump quantity. But even if it doesn’t, cheap, crappy content is a turn-off for audiences. The more sites that start to rely on hastily-produced, poorly-checked copy, or lazy semi-plagiarisms of things that desperate teams of poorly-paid hacks with deadlines and quotas to hit have found elsewhere, the less distinctive sites get, and the fewer returning visitors you’ll get. As that linked article puts it: “With a business model based on a ton of cheap content, Web publishers can rely too heavily on acid-reflux-style aggregation, in which young writers destroy the savor of interesting stories and an interesting world by constantly regurgitating the news with added bile.” There’s also an interesting point made from John Waters in the Irish Times (now behind a paywall), on the impact of comment sections under online articles: “Because everything written specifically for...