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.

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.

Work Note: Talk from the #ebf14 (German)

Here’s the video of a talk I gave with our client Elisabeth Ruge at the Electric Book Fair 2014 in Berlin.

The Electric Book Fair in Berlin was an event for the independent publishing scene. Together with our client Elisabeth Ruge, I gave a talk (in German) about reading in the 21st century. Elisabeth and I used our different backgrounds to look at three possible trends from the perspective of literature (Elisabeth) and technology (me). We believe that these two perspectives most come together for the future of publishing.

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. 

TW Reads – A Future of News edition

Five articles about the Future of News and why it needs a merging of journalism and technology.

“To be successful, digital publications must do more than permit a story to come together — they must also empower the kind of prolific, creative collaboration required to bring off stories that can seduce even the most distracted readers.”

Editorially

As Igor mentioned in his work note, we quite enjoy observing the news media industry at the moment. When the NY Times Innovation Report was released, we – once again – noticed the undercurrent of a theme we’ve been running with for some time now: in the future every company will also be a tech company. Or in this case: every journalism company will also be a tech company.

The merging of literature and technology is also true for journalism and technology. And it’s not only about how to get your content to your audience but also about infrastructure is changing consumption and thus creation.

We see the strongest potential for future success with approaches that show a joint passion for reporting, production, delivery and communication.

Here are some articles and links from the last few weeks on that topic:

  • The Atlantic: Method Journalism
    
Alexis Madrigal analyzes how this round of new media sites like Vox, FiveThirtyEight and others are no longer about an “area of coverage” but a “method of coverage.”
  • NY Times: Scoop – A Glimpse Into the NYTimes CMS
    In times when some in Germany think that 10 percent of a new media endeavor’s budget for tech is too much, this is an interesting look at the new, digital-first CMS that the NY Times is building. It’s a little more than just setting up a WordPress instance.
  • Editorially joins Vox Media
    
Besides being glad that the smart people behind failed startup Editorially having found a new home, this announcement is actually full of interesting insights. The Editorially team will help Vox Media to optimize the editorial workflow (see the quote above).
  • Forbes: The Invention Of News: How The World Came To Know About Itself
    In the heated debates about the future of news, we tend to forget about the history of news and what we can learn from that. Andrew Pettegree has written the go-to book about it and this interview makes us want to buy it.
  • BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti Goes Long
    
When even people like Seth Godin think that BuzzFeed is about cats and listicles, we’d recommend looking a bit deeper. And this (very) long interview with its founder Jonah Peretti is an excellent place to start. Trust us on this one.

Work Note – Literature and Technology at the Electric Book Fair 2014

Johannes joined forces with our client Elisabeth Ruge for a talk about reading in the 21st century.

Our work relationship with our client Elisabeth Ruge is based on our mutual fondness of literature and interest in the effects of technological progress. So when the opportunity arrived to give a talk together, we chose to use our dualism between literature and technology as the format.

Last Saturday, the digital indie-publishing scene got together at Supermarkt in Berlin-Wedding for the Electric Book Fair. Elisabeth Ruge and I (Johannes) talked about ‘Reading in the 21st century’ making the case that we’re reading more then ever. We looked at different aspects like the serialization of novels, customized/algorithmic novels and social reading with her providing the historic/literary perspective and me talking about the technological facets. Our main examples was once again Wattpad, which for me remains one of the strongest signals for what reading (and thus writing) might become in the near future.

Our goal was to show that one can’t really separate those two sides or, to be more precise, that one shouldn’t to be successful. From what I can tell, the talk was received well.

Here are three (German) articles that cover our presentation:

Elisabeth and I will host a workshop at the Epublish Congress in November.

Work Note – Back in the writing business

A big update after a long pause.

Clever strategy to first announce a massive change in how we want to approach publishing and than just stop writing all together.

Please don’t do this at home. Or at work, for that matter.

There are both professional as well as personal reasons that led to this particular (non-)execution of a strategy that we still want to test in the field.

Professionally, we have experienced a peak in work load. Not utterly unexpected, but mixed with the fact that I became a dad (it’s a girl!) a tiny bit earlier than estimated, it led to an unprecedented reshuffling of priorities, in which family and direct client work have top priority.

Practically speaking, while I was enjoying and easing into a family routine, Johannes successfully managed to juggle all project at once. The understanding and flexibility that all of our partners and clients showed to a sudden change of pace reminded us how privileged we are to be able to work with those people.

Now that I’m back, we returning to an old routine and this post is an attempt to get back to writing. In that sense, here is a run down of things that we have been up to.

Publishing, publishing … and publishing

In various capacities, we maintain our focus on the publishing industry and keep a very close eye on industry news and developments. In that context, we couldn’t avoid the leaked New York Times report and Amazon’s very public confrontation both with Hachette as well as Warner Bros.

NYT Report

It’s a rare gift to get access to an internal strategy document from one of the leading brands in the publishing industry. There are a couple of findings that sprang to mind, but overall I’d have to agree with BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti that they are very hard on themselves and especially on their digital team and not hard enough on the print people. Considering especially the scope of things in Germany, where the pinnacle of news innovation seems to be a crowd funding project by journalists, the NYT performs beyond what most other media organizations can offer.

On a side note: it was reinforcing to see some of the findings and business model adjustment suggestions that we made for a client in Moscow last year in a similar form in the NYT report.

Amazon vs Hachette vs Bornier vs Warner

In a remarkably public way, Amazon and Hachette (they apply similar mechanics with Bornier and Warner) decided to show the world how much both sides don’t care for each other. The mechanics that Amazon applies have been document fairly publicly and – probably not to a big surprise – not quite in the market places favor.

Despite the assumed premise that Amazon does everything with the consumer in mind, they do not seem to back off in highlight of all the negative PR. In this context, the only thing that we can now hope for is for a leaked report on how much business they lose. If any.

Be it for the consumer or not, the consumer is the one that made it possible for Amazon to pull this off. The “everything store” has created a cross-industries pull effect of unprecedented proportions. They fell comfortable enough to not provide the customer with the exact thing that they want, because they know that the same customer will come back to buy something else from them anyway. A book or two more not sold isn’t going to make a behemoth of that size flinch. At this point, it would need a cross-industries collaboration to back Amazon into the corner they so deserve to be in.

Mobile Payments

As for years now, we are still constantly involved in various projects about mobile payment.

There is an unravelling happening in the industry. Starting with Square. A company that went quickly from being the darling example of all innovators to a disputed, cash-burning entity that apparently can neither find a buyer because of its overblown valuation nor does have the balance sheet that would make an IPO possible.

Despite all that, Square’s solution was regarded as the benchmark of the industry. It has to say something that this very solution is shelved now.

Mobile Wallets don’t catch on, because they are build in a way that mostly benefits the maker of the wallet, not the user. Many, if not most, mobile wallets are made by companies outside of the finance business. The play is to take away some of the power from the companies who are making a profit on cash and credit. Banks, credit card issuers, etc.

Problem is: for now, mobile wallets can’t be designed in a way that assumes that they are the only way to pay out there. Which they aren’t. Cash and plastic aren’t going to go extinct any time soon. I see a bright future for companies who succeed in building a mobile wallet as part of a larger ecosystem of payment methods. There is plenty of money in that too.

That’s basically what we have been exploring in the field. What might this look like? Where is the market for such a venture? Making feature lists, discussing business plans. This is an ongoing project, expect us to talk more about some of the insights.

With that, I’m signing off after a long update.

Week 181: The Literatur Digital Conference

Johannes looks back at the Literatur Digital conference at the HKW in Berlin.

As Igor mentioned last week, we spent the weekend at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt1 in Berlin attending the Literatur Digital conference. It was organized by Fiktion, a collective of authors and publishers that sees more opportunities in digitalization for authors and serious fiction than dangers. The program was a good mix of theoretical and practical aspects with national and international speakers. It was a pity that the audience seemed to mostly consist of like-minded writers and publishers. There was little debate that would have pushed the conversation forward. So I enjoyed the back channel bantering with the few other Twitterers present.

Elisabeth, Igor and I used our panel to talk about publishing for the new context of reading and writing. Each of us introduced one example of an entity, doing something different while not waiting for the industry to decide on the right way forward.
Elisabeth showed how Maria Popova has taken Brainpickings from a newsletter with some inspirational links to a media brand with 7 million readers per month. It’s fascinating how she is using new media patterns (like listicles and book trailers) to re-introduce and promote a lot of classics of world literature.
Igor talked about Readmill as an example of a social ebook app that helps readers to engage deeper with digital text and have more conversations about it. He also demonstrated how the immense costs for a license for the Adobe DRM that companies like Readmill have to pay, hurt publishers. When they demand DRM, only the big platforms can afford it. If publishers want to see more competition for Amazon’s ebook business, dropping DRM demands would be a good start2.
I presented Wattpad, a Canadian startup that has created a platform for reading and, more importantly, writing. It has over 20 million active users, most of them teenagers. It’s a fascinating example of a new generation of writers who are learning to build reader communities and receive massive feedback from the get-go. The details about Wattpad are best summed up in this NY Times piece from last Sunday.

What all these examples have in common is their enormous passion for the written word. They are all struggling to find their business model. But that hasn’t kept them from pushing forward and bringing better texts to more readers. It’s an enthusiasm that they share with most attendants of Literatur Digital. I hope that these types of events get more attention in the future. The German publishing industry is in dire need of some well-balanced passion for the art form. Neither cynicism and conservatism nor blind faith in technology and the digital will create a prosperous future for writers. What is needed is some critical optimism. For Elisabeth, Igor and I, this panel was also a good example of the future collaboration we aim for. Her expertise as a former publisher and our insights into the digital landscape made for a good mix of observations and predictions in our talk.

I’m writing this at Il Baretto, an Italian cafe in the wartehalle of Zurich’s main train station3. We’re on our way to a big workshop with our client 3A Composites. They have just released the iPad version of their digital magazine Forms & Elements, developed by our friends at MoreSleep.
After this major milestone from the 4-year roadmap we created for them almost two years ago, it’s time to reflect on the general vision of the strategy and plan the next milestones in more detail. We’re looking forward to two exciting days.


  1. All of a sudden, it feels like I’m spending a lot of weekends at the HKW. The reason is that they’ve put together a pretty decent conference program. It started this year with Transmediale and continued with Narrating War and others. If you’re looking to widen your horizon on the weekend, the HKW is an excellent place to visit. It’s a nice building, too, including a restaurant with a lot of tables outside along the Spree. Now that spring is coming back, it’s a beautiful place to spend a Saturday afternoon in the shadow of the Kanzleramt. 

  2. And due to the late publishing date of this week note, I have to add that Readmill is rumored to be bought by Dropbox. It’s an “acqui-hire,“ which means that Dropbox wants the talent and will presumably kill the app. There you go, publishing industry, another good effort bites the dust, because you were neither interest interested in making it work nor made it at least easier by not demanding a lot of money for DRM licenses that could have gone into development or new ideas. 

  3. The coffee is a typical over-burned robusta hell, but the chocolate croissants might be the best I’ve ever had. 

Jonah Peretti at Changing Media Summit 2013

Notes, insights and learning from Jonah Peretti’s keynote at Guardian’s Changing Media Summit 2013.

peretti Buzzfeed’s Jonah Peretti on how ideas travel on the social web – video

Well, that came in handy. While Johannes and I are spending this weekend on researching as much as possible about the publishing industry, we stumbled upon this fantastic keynote by Jonah Peretti at Guardian’s Changing Media Summit. If you are not familiar with the name, Jonah is the CEO of Buzzfeed and is hailed – quite possibly rightly so – as the wunderkind of the publishing industry. Buzzfeed is not his first success. He was instrumental to the rise of the famous Huffington Post before that.

We took some notes and thought that some of you might find them useful as well. So here it is, the video and our rather unfiltered notes (mostly just sentences he said).

A little side anecdote as to the creation of this blog post: I created the initial notes by writing them down in iA Writer, transferring them into Draft and sharing them with Johannes. There, Johannes added his notes and I had the chance to approve them. Draft is an amazing tool for collaborative writing. It’s a bit like github for writing.

Notes, Insights & Learnings

  • Over 40+ Mio unique visitors per month
  • Primarily from social
  • Mostly 18-34
  • Over 40% from mobile
  • Shift from Portals -> Search -> Social
  • HuffPo was grown rapidly through search, BuzzFeed through social.
  • “Bored-At-Work”-Network = Collectively larger than the audience BBC or CNN reaches
  • Literally hundreds of millions of people
  • Weren’t initially aware that they are part of a network
  • If your mobile doesn’t work on mobile, it doesn’t spread
  • Mobile and Social have converged.
  • Make something that ordinary people want to share
  • “Biggest misconception is that you need to focus on quality for things to go viral.”
  • Quality helps, but it’s not necessary
  • Idea matters, but as important is the mechanism for spreading the idea
  • You should spend an equal amount of time on how to spread an idea as you spend time on the idea itself.
  • BuzzFeed combines Art & Science, which is the creativity/the idea and the data-driven approach to spreading it.
  • R = ßz (the equation for epidemiology = how effective diseases spread)
  • Viral Rank = measures the “social production rate” of media and is measurement metric that exists in real-time
  • Maximization of Content Spread = we starve content that isn’t getting traction, and fuel the content that is taking off
  • BuzzFeed also uses machine learning to predict social hits so they know
  • Twitter has a half-life of about an hour
  • Facebook has a half-life of about a day
  • Pinterest has a half-life of about a week
  • “Our technology is made for social.” Measuring the social lift.
  • BuzzFeed uses dashboards to help editors train their intuition of what might work.
  • We behave very differently depending on the context. Content spreads differently on different platforms.
  • Google is very informational (about the information), Facebook is about connecting people (through information?), Facebook is much more emotional
  • “Humor is inherently social.” When you meet people and somebody jokes, nobody remembers the joke the next day, only that they laughed hard
  • BuzzFeed has buttons for emotions. *I think it actually helps them to channel their emotion and become more aware, thus more willing to share. “If I LOLed so hard, I should send it to my friends.”
  • Once people are reacting, they are much more likely to share -> make simple to react
  • Good news for journalism: “Aggregation worked for search, but Scoops & Quality Reporting work for Social” -> Google can’t tell the difference between the rewrite and the original scoop, but on Twitter people can tell which one is the original. They will retweet the original scoop.
  • Publishing is now a Paris Café (!!!) – You can read the Le Mond, you can pet a dog, because its cute and you can flirt with somebody. Buzzfeed tries to serve all our emotional needs.
  • Lets embrace ALL the things that make us human.
  • “Edit was first, but now the big shift to social is coming to advertising”
  • At Buzzfeed, 100% of revenue is social content marketing
  • No banner ads on BuzzFeed.
  • Brands are held to a higher bar where they must have content that people actually want to click on and read
  • It all works through the same CMS
  • Editors never touch brand content, but brands have to learn how to work as publishers / editors
  • Brands get a dashboard that shows how much earned media they are getting
  • Social can make ads great again. In the Mad Men era advertising didn’t need to cram ads into a banner, they had a whole page
  • Social can hold advertising to a new bar
  • It’s better to think long-term
  • Have a heart, having emotional is important
  • Identity: People share stuff because it’s about them
  • Something that everybody like a little gets shared less than something that only a small percentage like a lot.
  • If you can publish into the zeitgeist, you can publish into what people are talking about and you can capture the moment …
  • Nostalgia is also very social
  • Porn only works for search, not for social.
  • “The banner ad was a historical accident and we are moving past it.”
  • EQ is as important as IQ.