Third Wave Escapism

How we celebrated our 5th anniversary

5y Third Wave

A couple of weeks ago, we had our fifth anniversary as a company. So how to celebrate that? A party, a press event, a publication? One thing we’ve learned in the last years is to trust our guts and do what feels right. And what we wanted to do more than anything else is take our friends and get away for a bit.

We rented an amazing house, about 2.5 hours outside of Berlin in the so-called mecklenburgische Schweiz, invited 20 of our friends, packed our trunks full of food and drinks and escaped for the weekend. We knew we did the right thing when the most common feedback after the weekend was: “I really needed this.”

Giving our hard-working friends a breather was the most rewarding thing we could do to celebrate. And in reflecting about this, I think it actually tells me a lot more about the kinda company Igor and I want to have and continue building.

I let the photos by Nicola explain the rest.

5y Third Wave

5y Third Wave

5y Third Wave

5y Third Wave

5y Third Wave

5y Third Wave

5y Third Wave

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5y Third Wave

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5y Third Wave

Articles & Talks – Q2/2015

Our article in the Tinius Trust Annual Report 2014 and a couple of talks

Time flies when you’re deep in client work. So here are a couple of things that happened recently.

Tinius Trust Annual Report

Tinius Trust Annual Report 2014

When the Tinius Trust asked us to write an article for their annual report, we used the opportunity to flash out a more detailed description of our framework for media companies, adding examples for all the parts. What we didn’t expect was that they would take our text and apply some great editorial design and even add beautiful illustrations.

artikel im tinius trust report

You can read our article here: A framework for building media companies in the digital world

You can download the full report with articles from experts like Tanya Cordrey, Kevin Delaney and Ernst-Jan Pfauth here: PDF

Republica 2015

Igor and I both gave talks (in German) at this years’ republica conference here in Berlin. You can watch them on YouTube.

johannes at republica 2015

Johannes: Mensch, Macht, Maschine – Wer bestimmt wie wir morgen arbeiten?

igor at republica 2015

Igor: Ein Plädoyer für eine Non-Profit Medienlandschaft

And a couple more talks in the last months…

Please get in contact if you’re interested in booking us to speak at your event.

Our Client Alucobond

Patricia Stubbe from our client company 3A Composites and the Alucobond brand has written an article for the German website pressesprecher on working with us and doing social media in a b2b context: Social Media im B2B-Bereich

Filtrate 13/2015 – Facebook and the Publishers

Facebook wants to host original content by publishers like the NY Times and Buzzfeed. We’ve been following the story the whole week and have collected the most interesting tidbits and insights.

Filtrate is a blogging format inspired by Matt Webb and Michael Sippey: “Start a new draft post on Monday, dump things in it over the week, rewrite and cull along the way, what’s left gets published on Friday.”

1.

It has been on the horizon since last autumn and this week, the NY Times officially anounced it: Facebook May Host News Sites’ Content

In recent months, Facebook has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site.

The official reason for Facebook to do this: speed and user experience:

Facebook has said publicly that it wants to make the experience of consuming content online more seamless. News articles on Facebook are currently linked to the publisher’s own website, and open in a web browser, typically taking about eight seconds to load. Facebook thinks that this is too much time, especially on a mobile device, and that when it comes to catching the roving eyeballs of readers, milliseconds matter.

Yeah, right…

2.

Joshua Benton from Niemanlab about Facebook’s true motivation:

Facebook controls a huge share of the traffic publishers get — 40 percent or more in many cases. Combine that with the appification of people’s online life — the retreat from the open web toward a few social-media icons on your phone’s home screen — and you start to get at the motivations here. Facebook has fallen into the role of audience gatekeeper for many publishers, and it’s offering (!) to optimize that relationship.

And the current publishers dilema:

The game for traditional publishers now is all about short-term/long-term tradeoffs. Of course, in the long run, you want to control the customer and advertiser relationships. But today, in 2015, Facebook controls a large share of your audience and has user data you have no hope of matching.

3.

John Battelle gets much more criticial and poses a couple of questions that publishers should ask themselves before hosting their content on Facebook.

  • Do you have full and unfettered access to reader data? Will Facebook have access to your customer data?
  • Do you have full and unfettered control over your advertising relationships and data? Will Facebook have access to that data?
  • Do you have certainty over the levers of circulation marketing, including the price of reader acquisition and engagement?
  • Do you have control over your core product, so you can craft your reader’s experience as an expression of your brand?
  • Do you have any proof that publishers using another company’s proprietary platform have ever created a lasting and sustainable business? He sums up his perspective like this: I can’t really think of any publisher who thrived on someone else’s platform, for the reasons I laid out above. Sure, a lot of apps have done well, but in the main they were either hit businesses (gaming) or free services that kept their customer and revenue models well away from Apple or Google’s grasp (everybody else ever).

4.

But Battelle also see some differences between publishers like the NY Times and companies like Buzzfeed.

Which brings us to BuzzFeed, which has taken a delightfully inverse approach to platform economics — that is to say, it embraces the distribution of its content independent of its home base. Of course, it can do so because its core revenue model is native advertising content, which is distributed in the same fashion as original editorial content. This model suits BuzzFeed very, very well.

So for Buzzfeed this deal with Facebook makes a lot of sense because their business model is in the content and the audience it reaches as Felix Salmon describes:

BuzzFeed has built its business model around its ability to ensure that any piece of content, whether it’s a cat listicle or an ad or a news story, reaches as much of its intended target audience as possible.

Which means that Buzzfeed – unlike the NY Times – isn’t dependent on its brand and that lets them benefit much more from deals that will get them bigger audiences for the price of less brand perception.

5.

This is the appropriate time to dig up the great essay The Next Internet Is TV by John Herman on The Awl from the beginning of February.

The prospect of Facebook, for example, as a primary host for news organizations, not just an outsized source of traffic, is depressing even if you like Facebook. A new generation of artists and creative people ceding the still-fresh dream of direct compensation and independence to mediated advertising arrangements with accidentally enormous middlemen apps that have no special interest in publishing beyond value extraction through advertising is the early internet utopian’s worst-case scenario.

His hypothesis: Publisher on the web will end up where TV producers have been for a long time: filling up channels with content.

And so one more obvious theoretical question for this particular view of the future that seems to be quite popular right now, in which we have circled back to TV via the internet or apps or social media or even TV itself: Wasn’t the internet supposed to be BETTER, somehow, in all its broken decentralized chaos and glory? The TV industry, which is mediated at every possible point, is a brutal interface for culture and commerce.

6.

John Herman chimend in again this week with a more specific take on Facebook hosting publisher’s content..

Their presence in News Feed will seem slightly easier and more natural than the presence of their competitors, whose manipulative headlines—which have been carefully optimized to convince you to leave Facebook to go to another site—will read an awful lot like spam.

Could one side-effect of this move by Facebook be that we will see the end of headlines like “You won’t believe what happened next,” finally?

There is a helpful symmetry here, if you’ll grant it. Online publishers, with more readers than ever, are looking desperately for the next thing; Facebook, with more people using its core product than ever, is doing the same. The difference, of course, is that publishers’ next thing already belongs to someone else. Their future belongs to Facebook’s past.

It’s a bit ironic that publishers desperately want to be part of Facebook’s newsfeed while Facebook is looking intensively for the next big thing after the newsfeed.

7.

Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic reminds us that Facebook had encouraged publishers before to heavily invest in a FB technology.

Facebook selects a couple news organizations and asks them to invest heavily in a native tool that gives news stories—news stories!—an unprecedentedly high-ranking in users’ feed. They do, and for a few months, they see increased traffic in the millions. And then, one day, Facebook’s engineering team realizes that this new tool is cutting engagement and winds it down.

The whole endavour was known as the “social reader” back then and for a short time, it brought early adopters like the Washington Post a couple of million more impressions. Until Facebook decided that users didn’t like the feautre and suddenly turned it off one morning and with it all that traffic.

8.

Wednesday night, Facebook introduced a couple of new things at their developer conference F8. The stuff around the Messenger are less relevant for publishers than the advertising-related anouncements. Digiday summed it up like this:

Facebook is gradually positioning itself to become the data, media-consumption and sharing backbone for the entire digital media industry.

9.

As part of Wednesday’s update, Facebook is also expanding LiveRail’s ad management capabilities to mobile display advertising, meaning publishers can use the technology to sell both video and display ads on their mobile apps.

…writes re/code. LiveRail is the ad server that Facebook is running.

What’s significant in this announcement is that LiveRail will now use its anonymized user data to help publishers serve better targeted advertising on platforms that aren’t Facebook. So instead of relying on things like Internet cookies to help publishers target a Web visitor, publishers using LiveRail will be able to add Facebook’s user data into the mix to get a better idea of who’s watching the ad.

This is huge. And Google should be very afraid. Facebook is really starting to eat into their core business.

LiveRail and its ingestion of Facebook data “makes Facebook an important operating system of the digital ecosystem, certainly being able to rival Google and its DoubleClick infrastructure,” said Dave Morgan, CEO of Simulmedia, a targeted television advertising company. “This puts their lead in some areas under pressure. Certainly in the digital video area, Google should be worried.”

But it also means that Facebook is not focussed on what’s happning on their own platform. They also want to make their data useable to advertisers on other platforms, outside the Facebook ecosystem, sorry, “family of apps.”

The move speaks to Facebook’s desire to be a major advertising partner for publishers, brands and agencies outside its own properties.

That balance might actually make some more publishers consider their offering to host content.

10.

11.

Alexis Lloyd and Matt Boggie from the NY Times R&D Lab gave a great talk at FutureEverything that summed up a lot of the current trends in (digital) publishing.

Introducing a Digital Framework for Media Companies

We have collected our insights on the media landscape into a new model.

This is a revised version of the framework that we released on March, 19. Check the change notes at the end of the article.

Since releasing our Future of News Publishing report last year and since actually putting it together about two years ago, we have been observing the news publishing industry continually. Collecting weak signals, we were trying to spot the behaviors that seem to be helping publishers not only to survive but to move forward. Taking a step back, we saw similar patterns emerging again and again. So it was time to put them into a framework.

The purpose of this framework is to put the most important aspects of a publishing company in the digital world into a model1. It’s not a how-to guide for building a news publishing product. It’s a mental model how to think about and develop core parts of the business.

The Key Components

audience product business infrastructure

The model itself is simple. It’s a triangle that connects the three main areas of a media company from our (current) perspective and puts the audience in the middle.

1. Audience

Every media company needs to start with and evolve around its audience: the readers, viewers, listeners, commentators, community etc.

2. Product

This is not only all the content that is written, produced, recorded, filmed or created in any way. The editorial strategy and the “voice” (as in tonality) are part of this, too. It’s also the talent: the writers, the journalists, the photographers, the film crews, the fact checkers and researchers. Also the formats: articles, slideshows, listicles, quizzes, clips, interviews, op-eds etc.

We also include the frontend here – how the audience perceives the content: websites, apps, email newsletters, magazines, newspapers, PDFs, ebook readers, etc – the user experience. From our observation, it’s almost impossible to create a digital media product while distinguishing to strongly between the content and its delivery.

3. Business

All the ways that the company makes money. We’ve touched on a lot of the new possibilities and business models for media businesses to make money in the Future of News Publishing report. From advertising and sales to events to consulting and much more.

4. Infrastructure

These are the server, tools and systems that keep the company running. But it’s also where the content is created: the content management systems, the databases, the communications channels, the analytics dashboard, the tools and gadgets for reporting, writing, recording, maintaining and distributing.

The Key Insights

So far, nothing new. Most media businesses have always consisted of these aspects. So what’s the difference in a digital world? Here are the two main insights:

1. Collaboration

All three areas of the company and their connected departments must be not only constantly in contact but actually collaborating. The days when the product development was cut off from the newsroom and journalists never spent a thought on where their salary came from are gone.

Much has been said and written about the wall between the journalism side and the business side of news publishing entities also known as the divide between church and state. And we’re most certainly endorsing a transparent approach to native advertising and the likes. But in a time when fresh ideas are in desperate need, we think that too much is lost by people from the different departments not thinking and working together.

We think that one of the best ways to set up a media business for the digital world is to not separate the three aspects into different departments but to hire people who feel comfortable in two or more areas. The best way to avoid silos is to have them breached by individuals who have clear goals that span more than one area.

All three areas also need to be perpetually connected to the audience. Product needs to know what they are interested in, what’s their take on things and what’s helping them in their day/work/life. Business needs to know where the audience’s money is going, what they are willing to spend and how they value the content. Infrastructure needs to continuously update its understanding of the audience’s consumption behavior, their favorite tools and devices and how they prefer to pay.

Some of this means being in a continuous conversation with the audience. For other insights, it means looking a studies, reports and conducting individual research. A lot of it means just prototyping and testing.

2. Iteration

iteration of product, business, infrastructure

The complexity and rapid progression of the digital world makes it hard to just plan, implement and then run with a finished product. One of the core principles of the digital context is to have a small idea, test it, improve it, test it again, improve it again and so on. It’s all about perpetual iteration.

This insight is the biggest change of how media companies are working in the digital world. It’s also the part that current media companies and even a lot of the ones “born digital” struggle with.

Some media companies iterate their content. They try out new formats, writing styles, video story lines etc. Others are experimenting with new business models like opening up an event space, releasing special purpose apps or starting an agency business. But only very few media companies iterate in their infrastructure development like continuously working on making their websites work better and optimizing the CMS and the publishing process.

We think that to be successful as a publisher in the future, a company needs to iterate in all three areas of our model all the time. And it shouldn’t keep the iteration loops inside each area. Every iteration in one area should be shared with the other areas to inspire the iterations there. The result is a constant renewal of the whole company.

constant iteration

An example: A company comes up with a new idea for a content format. It will prototype it and test the idea with its audience. The audience feedback might also inform new ideas for business models that might go along with this format. If the company doesn’t have an in-house design-and-development team, this prototyping would be difficult and expensive. But if the project team consists of members who are connected to all three areas, they can iterate towards a viable new outcome rapidly.

That’s why we see a lot of good initial ideas fail. The technological development is outsourced and only involved until the launch. And we think that it is impossible to create a successful digital media product without iterating it constantly.

What’s next?

That is the basic concept of our framework for digital media companies. So what can you do with it right now?

  • Use it to analyze different media companies and see how they cover the different areas…or not.
  • Check the viability of your own (media) company and discover blind spots that you hadn’t thought about in this context yet.
  • Investigate the core digital paradigm of constant iteration and ask yourself what that means for your company and team structures, your processes, your project planning and your business model(s).

This introduction to the framework has only been one step for us. Next up is collecting lots of feedback and, of course, iterating the model. And we are writing more in-depth articles about all the different aspects of the framework.

If you have questions about or feedback for the framework, please get in contact.

Added on June, 24 2015

We’ve written an extended version of this articles with a lot more examples for the Tinius Trust Annual Report. Check it out over here: A framework for building media companies in the digital world

Change Notes v1.1 – March, 24 2015

It is a core principle of this model that the three areas are very closely connected and thus certainlty overlap in a lot of places. We took a first shot sorting aspects into the different areas. But Florian Steglich gave us some great feedback on how to rearrange a couple of things. Here’s his redrawing of our model.

  • We changed Content to Product and added all the frontend/user experience elements to this area.
  • We changed Product to Infrastructure.

Here is an in-between version that Johannes drew in a hotel room in Barcelona for his talk at the IAM 2015 conference. It said “technology” where it now says “infrastructure.” We changed it to infrastructure because we think that technology is an essential part of all three areas.


  1. We’re not talking about digital companies per se as in companies, which have a digital product. When we talk about the “digital world,” we mean a world that is heavily influenced by the characteristics of “the digital.” A media company might only sell a print product. But it still has to deal with “digital aspects” like growing complexity, shorter attention span, internal communications based on email and much more. In the digital world, every company is also a tech company. 

Die Abhängigkeit von Social Media Plattformen macht Verleger irrelevant

The following post is about the dependency of publishers on social media platforms in German, because it picks up on a post at Wired Germany.

In seiner letzten Kolumne für Wired Deutschland hat Johnny Häusler Zeitungsverlegern empfohlen die eigene Webseite abzuschalten und einfach dahin gehen wo die Leser sind.

Im Moment gibt es zwar noch ein paar (ältere) Leser, die täglich eine URL eintippen und die Startseite eines News-Portals oder Magazins nach den für sie interessanten Nachrichten, Fotostrecken oder Videoberichten durchsuchen. Doch die Zeiten, in denen Menschen dorthin gehen, wo die News sind, sind längst vorbei. Weshalb die Nachrichten dorthin gehen müssen, wo die Menschen sind.

Ich habe auf Twitter widersprochen, wir hatte eine nette Unterhaltung und einige andere haben sich mit in die Diskussion eingeschaltet.

Journalistische Relevanz sollte nicht anhand der Zahl der Klicks gemessen werden. Daher ist es umso zweifelhafter wenn Beispiele wie Snapchat Discovery als gute Möglichkeiten angebracht werden, um für Verlage neue Zielgruppen zu erschließen. Genau wie für Facebook, sind Verlage für Snapchat nichts anderes als Produzenten des Contents, den ihre Nutzer auf ihrer Plattform sehen werden. Die Produzenten bekommen ein immenses Regularium vorgelegt, nachdem sie ihren Content produzieren sollen. In einigen Fällen mischt sich Snapchats Editorial Team (denkt mal darüber nach warum sie eins haben und weiter aufbauen) sogar in die Produktion des Contents für die eigene Plattform ein. Das ist, laut dem WSJ, auch der Grund, warum sich Buzzfeed trotz vorheriger Ankündigung gegen eine Beteiligung an dem neuen Programm entschieden hat. Im Gegenzug dürfen Verleger den Distributionskanal – in dem Fall Snapchat – nutzen.

Jeder gegen Jeden: Nutzungszeit

Für Snapchat, geht es um die Steigerung ihrer Relevanz durch Erhöhung von Nutzungszeiten ihrer App. Höhere Nutzungszeiten bedeutet zwangsläufig, dass ihre Nutzer andere Apps oder mobile Webseiten nicht nutzen. Im digitalen Zeitalter, jedoch vor allem auf Smartphones, geht es nicht um die Konkurrenz im gleichen Marktsegment. Alle konkurrieren gegen einander um die Zeit, die der Nutzer mit seinem Telefon verbringt. Snapchats größter Konkurrent in der Hinsicht ist Facebook und die von Facebook gekauften Whatsapp und Instagram.

Die Erhöhung der Nutzungszeit ist allerdings kein Selbstzweck sondern eine Metrik, mit der Snapchat von Werbetreibenden höhere Erträge generieren kann. Während Snapchat Discovery zunächst primär Partner aus der Medien und Verlagsindustrie hat, um sowohl die Verhaltensmuster zu testen als auch um lukrative Inhalte zu haben, sollen in Zukunft natürlich auf der gleichen Ebene auch Inhalte von klassischen Werbetreibenden erscheinen.

Aus Sicht der Nutzer von Snapchat ist das ein Mehrwert. Doch diesen Mehrwert verbinden diese Nutzer vor allem mit Snapchat, nicht mit den Produzenten von Inhalten. Der Inhalt wird dort konsumiert, wo der Nutzer ist. Die Plattform ist noch sehr jung, signifikante Auswertungen wird es noch nicht geben. Meine Vermutung ist: die meisten Nutzer werden sich nicht daran sehr lange daran erinnern können, wer der Absender des Inhaltes war, den sie womöglich gemocht haben. Sie werden sich vor allem daran erinnern, dass sie diesen auf Snapchat Discovery gesehen haben.

Ähnliche Methodiken wendet Facebook an. Darüber habe ich in der Vergangenheit bereits geschrieben.

Verlegen ist mehr als Inhalte produzieren

Beide Unternehmen versuchen das Ökosystem (Bought-, Owned-, Earned-Media) aufzulösen. Die Owned-Media – für ein Medienhaus: TV, Zeitung, Webseite – sollen immer mehr in die Kontrolle der US-Plattformen abwandern. Facebook hat es bereits geschafft die Abhängigkeit der Medienhäuser von ihnen fast unzerstörbar zu machen, indem sie der mit Abstand größte Treiber für Referrer-Traffic geworden sind. Jetzt wollen sie die Nutzer nicht mehr irgendwohin schicken, sondern sie immer mehr auf der eigenen Plattform behalten. Aus Gründen, die ich weiter oben bereits beleuchtet habe.

Was bedeutet das für Verlage? Vor allem die mit journalistischen Ambitionen? Die Marginalisierung ihrer Relevanz. Für Journalismus hat auch vor dem Internet niemand bezahlt. Die Profitabilität von Verlagshäusern beruhte auf ihrer Kontrolle von Produktionsinstrumenten (Druckereien) und den Distributionswegen. Beides ist durch das Internet marginalisiert worden. Russell Davies, einer der Mitbegründer vom Newspaper Club, sagte:

We Have Broken Your Businesses, Now We Want Your Machines

Plattformen wie Snapchat und Facebook wollen nicht die Druckerpressen sondern die Leser und je mehr sich Verlagshäuser auf die Beschaffung der Leserschaft einzig und alleine aus dem Traffic / Metriken, den diese Plattformen ihnen zu Verfügung stellen verlassen, desto schneller werden sie das letzte verlieren was sie derzeit noch haben: die Bedeutung ihrer Marken und die Autorität die einen Content-Produzenten von einem Verleger unterscheidet.

Metrics matter

The decline of the view-based-metric model has not been exaggerated. The quest to find an alternative is difficult. An overview.

The ad-budget crunch is felt across the media / publishing industry. While there are differences between markets, the overall trend is the same: publishers struggle generating enough revenue from the classic ad-based business models.

AdBlock and robots

One aspect of the overall situation is the growing number of AdBlock users. Now the company behind AdBlock Plus is even providing administrators with a solution to install their product across a whole network.

On the other side of the aisle, advertisers have to deal with the fact that a significant number of views on their display advertising is generated by robots and not potential customers. The Financial Times reported about a Mercedes-Benz campaign that had up to 57% of fraudulent impressions.

In a sample of 365,000 ad impressions brokered by Rocket Fuel over three weeks, Telemetry found that 57 per cent were “viewed” by automated computer programs rather than real people.

Current state of affairs

What is required is an industry wide acceptance and adoption of a new metric. Without a clear alternative in place, the view-based metric is creating the following problems:

  • For a few years already, there is a significant inflation in the value of display ads.
  • Ad space becoming cheaper forces publishers without alternative business models / revenue streams to accept ever worsening deals from advertisers and placing more ads on their digital properties.
  • This leads to even more devaluation of display ads.
  • On top of that, this trend aggravates the user experiences and frustrates the editorial side of the business. It destroys both the brand loyalty of the readers and the trustworthiness of the publication.
  • Furthermore, the waining cash reserves slash the chance of those businesses adopting new business models, because that would require substantial investments.

For some, native advertising seems like a natural way to alleviate those pains, but only a few publishers have adopted those into their core product yet. Compared with overall ad budgets, Native is nothing more than a niche in the business and doesn’t provide conclusive data and insights for the industry to adopt at scale. Additionally, most native-ad products are, as of now, far to expensive for most advertisers.

Engagement to the rescue

A new, industry-wide metric is required to stop the devaluation of advertising as a viable (main) business model.

Some publishers are lobbying for an engagement based metric model. Most prominently: the Financial Times, The Economist, Medium and Upworthy (which is radically transforming its business).

upworhty1-700x419 (Source: Upworthy)

Medium has been outspoken about their commitment to engagement-based models. Some authors are no longer being paid on the basis of how many times their articles have been seen, but how long people spent reading them.

For example, some people are now paid not by clicks, but by the total time spent reading in their collection—another experiment that could change as we learn what effects it has on the types of stories it helps produce, and how people find and read them. – Evan Hansen, Editorial Director at Medium

The engagement based metric would also reduces the strong dependency of most publishers on various social platforms and most of all on Facebook as sources for traffic. While receiving referrals will remain important, publishers will have the ability to optimize not only for click-bait, but for quality. Editorial teams will be able to focus again on the actual story.

If you let it, Facebook will take it all

As things are today, news publishing, especially in the US, is very much dependent on services controlled by technology companies. When Google closed down Google News in Spain, the traffic of the publishers who lobbied against the tech giant collapsed. This is a symbolic way of how the publishing industry is trying to cope with their current state. Instead of developing alternatives that would decrease their dependency, the strategic focus is far too often on blaming the tech industry.

Facebook has an unprecedented control over the digital distribution and spread of news, but the social network is far from satisfied being in control of how people discover news. In its everlasting quest to become the internet itself, Mark Zuckerberg’s company has started switching to a model that will reduce publishers to sheer content producers. This can be seen with their push into video. Videos hosted on Facebook perform far better than the ones who are only linked to / embedded.

“What the Shift to Video Means,” theoretically, is that much of the benefit publishers have derived from Facebook over the last three years, which required only occasional and modest adherence to Facebook’s explicit and implicit guidance, will disappear for organizations that are not interested in ceasing to be publishers to become “creators,” or in replicating their operations on another company’s platform just because it’s the momentarily dominant channel on hundreds of millions of new machines with poorly understood potential.

It makes a huge difference, especially on mobile, where Facebook dominance is now even stronger than on the web. On mobile videos hosted on Facebook will start playing (muted) automatically. What sounds like a small difference will create a distorted outcome for businesses that are operating with a view-based metric. Facebook is planing to adopt the same approach to non-video-based content as well. Publishers will be facing the decision of hosting their articles on Facebook itself, thus making it more likely for the content to be seen, but less likely that it will create any lasting value for themselves. A classic case of the middleman becoming rich and powerful enough to take over the whole stack.

Diversified business models are becoming non-optional for the publishing industry. There are alternatives to switching to different metrics or native advertising, but it is now clear that a continuation of the current state can only be considered wishful thinking.

In the end, it all comes down to Campbell’s law.

The more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.

The Future of News Publishing – A Report

We’re releasing a deck from 2013 about the news publishing industry to the public.

In spring 2013, we conducted a workshop for a large newspaper. They needed an outside perspective on the state of publishing, social media, digital etc. So we used that opportunity to put all our favorite cases and insights from the media industry into this one deck. It has been fascinating to observe how publishers all over the world have started to implement a lot of the ideas, we’ve mentioned here.

More than one year later, we’re still coming back to this presentation constantly. It has also served as the basis for the start of our podcast (in German). The deck is nowhere near a complete snapshot of the industry, but it covers the most important points for us at that time. This is why we have decided to release it to the public.

TW Commentary: Why Apple Pay makes Mobile Commerce incredibly easy

Apple Pay will be as transformative for payment as Google Maps was for location services. Now anyone with an app can sell things.

What Google did is provide easy access to the best location and map data in a simple, easily integratable way. Without Google Maps, we wouldn’t have companies like Foursquare, Yelp, etc. They all would have needed to build their own mapping infrastructure or rely on a more expensive / less accurate one. With Google they just used the best possible solution, for free. It suited both sides. Google got a lot of data out of this symbiosis and achieved what it always wants: more data. And app developers didn’t have to worry about location data and just build the best possible services around it.

Apple just did the same for payment. By integrating a payment services on the OS level, they basically are taking care of the whole, extremely complex process that is required to authenticate payments. Now any developer out there can just use the Apple Pay API to integrate payment into their own application.

This can have tremendous consequences. One of which should be a very scary proposition for Amazon. The lesson here can be derived from another Ecommerce company: Alibaba. What Alibaba did is offer a way for millions of manufacturers to sell to anyone in China and then the whole world. They offered those manufacturers a way to present themselves and they took care of the infrastructure. Additionally, they managed the trust issue, by keeping the money until the customers received their satisfactory product from the manufacturer / merchant.

Simply put, they created a market where there was none before. There’s huge potential for the same thing happening with the introduction of Apple Pay. Imagine the proposition of building an application as an author of books and just selling your own content, without anyone in between, directly to your clients. Authors with a large enough audience could use this to establish a new source of revenue. Building those kind of applications isn’t expensive anymore. Most of the technology is already made and available as open-source. The hardest part is not reaching the audience, it’s managing the payment process. With Apple Pay this is not an issue anymore.

Who is being shallow? How you should be thinking about Buzzfeed

The discussions around the latest financing round for Buzzfeed revealed, once again, that the company is still being misjudged. Here is why they’re the future of publishing.

In his latest column, David Carr writes about the uncertain future of spun-out print newspapers. At the same time, Andressen Horrowitz announces that they have invested 50 Million into Buzzfeed through a post that Chris Dixon, a partner in the firm, published on his private blog. They value the new-media firm at 850 Million dollars. If you have read any news about this, you’ve probably encountered the comparison to the price that Jeff Bezos paid for The Washington Post and how Buzzfeed’s value exceeds it by 600 Million.

The media landscape has been unraveling since the early 90s. No news here. News is, though, that so few journalist are able to report the fact that after all those years there is now a new breed of media companies that provide a plausible alternative to how media and news publishing companies have operated so far.

Technology is the backbone

For a venture capitalist, there is nominally little difference between Buzzfeed and Facebook or Twitter. They are investing into the technology capabilities of those companies, not into their editorial staff.

BuzzFeed has technology at its core. Its 100+ person tech team has created world-class systems for analytics, advertising, and content management. Engineers are 1st class citizens

There is a clear distinction here between Buzzfeed (or a Vox Media) and its predecessors. While traditional news organizations only involve themselves as much with technology as they feel necessary to accomplish their main objective (journalism), new media companies like Buzzfeed build technology that provides an abundance in scaling opportunities. That in turn makes them both profitable and susceptible to the interest of VCs and allows them, for now, to maintain an editorial stuff of 200, invest significant resources into investigative journalism and long-form reporting.

But there is more

As a media outlet, Buzzfeed is competing for the same advertising dollars as other media outlets, but they aren’t doing so with the same products. In his talk at the Guardian Media Summit a year ago, Jonah Peretti, Buzzfeed’s CEO, said that he considers display ads to be a historic mistake that soon will be corrected. While so many of us certainly can relate to the statement, I’m sure someone at Google and Yahoo will refer to how much money this “mistake” is making them. Fact is, Buzzfeed would never attempt to compromise the experience for the user by adding ads to its site. In fact, you don’t see any display advertising on the website whatsoever. Instead of charging advertisers money for displaying ads that nobody wants to see, Buzzfeed is charging advertisers for helping them to create content that both solve the communication need of the advertiser as well as ensuring that it creates value for the recipient. For Buzzfeed this means a better user experience and the luxury not to compete in a plummeting display ad market. Advertisers get a significantly better engagement on their marketing message. This way, Buzzfeed is both a media outlet as well as the advertising agency.

To round this up:

  • Buzzfeed created a technology that allows them to build the product that users want
  • Buzzfeed offers advertisers native advertising products by allowing them to use the same tech that their editorial stuff is using to create stories thus making the advertiser happy and themselves very profitable
  • This in turn allows them to produce the kind of content that is being asked for right now

buzzfeed explained

After years in which we have seen the validity of traditional media-business models erode, companies like Buzzfeed and Vox Media at least provide a viable alternative. One doesn’t have to agree fully with any of those approaches. Looking closely, one can find sufficient reason to be doubtful about the path those new companies are taking.

The core learning, on which so many in the traditional media landscape are focusing when debating Buzzfeed, is certainly not that one has to adopt listicals with funny cat photos or a subversively viral approach to formulating headlines. Those cursory observations are preventing an old industry from learning exactly what it needs to learn from those newcomers.

This is an exciting time to be involved in publishing, journalism and media. Here at Third Wave, we strongly disagree with the notion there is a lack of good content. In fact, the opposite is the case. The difference is that great content is out there, it’s just hard to find and even harder to finance. That too is not due to lack of financial resources. In the Netherlands, De Correspondent have raised 1.7 Million in a crowdfunding campaign to launch a new media entity, in Germany a less exciting project managed to raise over a Million. There are also smaller success stories such as Deca. Those projects prove that there is both money and willingness to pay for good content. Crowdfunding it itself isn’t a business model, nor should it ever be considered one. It might work for certain projects, but it won’t be enough to provide a scalable business model that will ensure the continued existence of the fourth estate.

There is a wonderful, long interview – published on Medium, of course – between Felix Salmon and Jonah Peretti (CEO of Buzzfeed). It’s personal. It provides context to understand why Peretti is able, so far, to navigate first The Huffington Post and now Buzzfeed to being such huge success in the media world.

Be of the net, not just on it.

–Emily Bell, Director of Tow Centre for Digital Journalism at Columbia J School

Buzzfeed certainly is.

TW Commentary – Journalism thwarted by technology

Looking at the Deca cooperative as an example of how journalism must learn to understand the technology layer that influences every aspect of its future endeavors.

Deca

A promising long-form-journalism project

Deca is a new cooperative of journalists from all over the world. Specializing in long-form/magazine writing, they’ve won numerous awards individually. Inspired by the Magnum photo-agency from the 50s they now want to see what they can achieve as a group, but independent from bigger publishers. When Igor and I stumbled upon their Kickstarter campaign, we instantly “backed” them. They hit all the right buttons for us:

  • A diverse group of women and men from different backgrounds with lots of experience. A group big enough to bundle resources, but small enough to stay flexible and not getting to dependent on large donations to sustain the business.
  • A defined product and process with a completed first story that showed what kind of topics and quality to expect.
  • A humble goal for the campaign that made clear that they indeed want a little kickstart, not a blanco check.
  • A solid understanding that independent journalism endeavors include contain a great deal of community involvement and thus management, as their Kickstarter rewards show.
  • This Forbes article shows how they are even starting to do something that looks like on-the-job training for future journalists.

But most of all, we loved their positive attitude. Instead of laments to the decline of good writing, they emphasized the opportunities of change. They don’t want to “save journalism”, but “travel the world over to find the stories that matter, then telling them.”

The Kickstarter campaign worked well. They hit their goal of $20,000 within three and a half days and made more than $32,000 in the end. Soon after, they released their second story. All in all, a fine example how to start a journalistic endeavor in 2014. But now it seems like they’ve fall into the same trap as so many similar projects by underestimating one aspect: the technological side.

Thwarted by a technical problem

The platform they are using for their iOS app and the web app seems to have big problems with the sign up of all their backers. And it also seems that there’s no easy fix. The developers of the platform are working hard to find the bug. I can only imagine how frustrating this must be, especially because they can do nothing but wait until someone else has found the solution. And in the meantime, they have to do customer service (which they do well) instead of finding stories.

We are seeing this again and again: promising new approaches to journalism that get caught up in technical difficulties. Journalists obviously focus on the journalistic part of their work. If they are progressive, they also have a good understanding of the business side of things.
But now, there’s this layer that influences every aspect of a journalism company: the technology. From researching stories to the editorial process (writing, editing, fact-checking, versions management) to delivery via content-management systems and printing infrastructure to digital payment in apps and for subscriptions to communication with colleagues and readers etc. The need for these technologies is not new. But the options and with them the opportunities have exploded. The easiest solution is to outsource most of these aspects to external vendors. But Deca just learned how frustrating this can be.

Every journalism company will also be a tech company

The next step is not to try to bring all the technological aspects of a journalism endeavor in house. That would be a 20th century solution to a networked 21st century world. The way forward for journalism is to acknowledge and even embrace the role of technology in its business and get smart about it. The better journalists understand how the technology they need to deal with works and how they can use it to their advantage the better they can brief vendors, estimate costs and develop ideas how to get closer to their stories and their readers.

I understand that journalists want to focus on what they perceive to be the crux of their work, researching, investigating, reporting. But I have this hunch that journalists who get more interested in the technological aspects of their work will be more successful in the coming years.1

The current sign-up problems of the Deca app will be fixed soon, I’m sure, and the Deca team will continue to deliver great stories. But I’m also sure that this episode will have shown them to never again underestimate the influence of technology on their work and the connection with their readers. I’m keen to see how they are going to use this knowledge to their advantage.

Check out Deca at decastories.com.


  1. My hidden agenda for journalists interested in technology: I want better analysis of the influence of technology and the people in power behind it on our world.