Mobile Media: News about mobile & its applications & implications for media. Written by Jeff Sonderman with contributions from Regina McCombs. Suggest a story.

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As mobile ad revenue continues to soar, newspapers still struggle to catch the wave

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There was a double dose of good news in eMarketer’s mid-year ad forecast released today. Ad spending will grow more than 5 percent in 2014 for the first time in 10 years. And the mobile ad boom shows no sign of plateauing with 83 percent growth over 2013 expected.

Digital giants like Facebook and Google continue to dominate the category (together more than 50 percent), while newspapers and magazine struggle to offer competitive ad buys on their mobile products.

The Newspaper Association of America’s revenue report for 2013, released in April, found that mobile advertising had grown 77 percent for the year but still accounted for less than 1 percent of total revenue.  By contrast, as Facebook reported its first quarter earnings the same month, it said mobile had grown to 59 percent of its total ad revenue.

A newspaper publisher friend summarized the state of play in his industry this way — “2013 will be remembered as the year when mobile went from infinitesimal to insignificant.”

Doing better in 2014 remains a high priority for many newspapers, but more bumps in an already bumpy road are foreseeable.

The American Press Institute held a summit on mobile this spring and found that detailed personalized data is the key to sales.  That is a great strength of Google and Facebook as the digital giants continue to invest heavily to stay ahead of competitors

The creative side of effective mobile advertising is a work in progress for marketers.  The consensus seems to be that banners do not work well on smart phones and tablets and that video, GIFs and other entertainment along with location-specific messages are the better match to how customers use the devices.

The right sort of sponsored content/native advertising also fits with mobile, especially if it is the sort of thing users will share on social media.

In short, these are characteristics of the new generation of content sites like BuzzFeed (which does not take banners) but relatively unfamiliar to legacy operations which do.

Mobile news content is also in early stages of development except at the largest organizations like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe. They have put money into iterative improvement of apps that both display well on the smaller smartphone screen and are tailored to quick, on-the-move consumption.

My own hunch is that getting video right and getting stronger mobile ad performance will go hand in hand for news sites — challenging and frustratingly slow work but hardly impossible.

If the eMarketer forecast is correct, the imperative will only intensify. The research firm sees mobile advertising revenues passing the total ad revenues for newspapers this year and more than tripling them by 2018. Read more


Wednesday, May 21, 2014


How small screens impact photojournalism — and tips for adapting

On Sunday morning, before I got out of bed, I started reading a story from The New York Times on my phone. I found it via Twitter, naturally, and enjoyed Freda Moon’s account of a journey from Chicago to New Orleans aboard a vintage Pullman sleeper car.

But halfway through the story, I realized I had scrolled past thumbnail images without giving them any thought (see screenshot at the right). Each photo — smaller than a postage stamp — failed to grab my attention until I recognized the name of the photographer, an intern at the Chicago Sun-Times when I worked there.

That’s when I decided to go outside, pull my copy of the print Times out of its blue plastic bag, and check out the photos at a size I might be able to appreciate.

It made a big difference:

For the most part, I can appreciate text no matter where I read it. Maybe there’s something poetic about the winding journey of jumping from column to column across a double truck — particularly in the Travel section. There’s also some evidence that it might be easier to remember information read in print than on a screen.

But regardless of the medium, you can only read one line at a time. Reading on a phone doesn’t feel overwhelmingly different from reading in print, especially once you’re absorbed into a narrative. BuzzFeed visitors spent an average of more than 25 minutes on a 6,000-word story.

Photos are a different story. It’s difficult to feel absorbed in a photo on a device with a 4-inch screen. Zooming in and exploring a photo bit by bit is no way to appreciate the photographer’s vision.

I asked Alex Wroblewski, the Chicago photographer who shot last week’s Times travel section cover story, how mobile impacts photojournalism. “The pictures aren’t going to be telling the story as much,” he said by phone on the way to an assignment. “It’s more on the back burner. Art is less of a focus.”

He added: “If you want to really get in-depth you’re going to have to look at the pictures on a big screen. Hopefully what those smaller pictures do is point [readers] in that direction.”

That’s what the photos in Andrea Elliott’s and Ruth Fremson’s “Invisible Child” series did for me. Even my 7-inch tablet wasn’t big enough to do justice to Fremson’s images. When I viewed the story on my laptop, later, the images were three times wider and about 100 times more powerful.

Strategies for optimizing images for mobile

Kenny Irby, Poynter’s senior faculty for visual journalism, told me that’s the major journalistic tradeoff when you choose to consume stories via mobile devices. “There’s just no way that you can get the full appreciation of a powerful photographic narrative on a cellphone,” he said.

The trend seems inexorable: Mobile Web traffic continues to gain on desktop traffic, surpassing it at news organizations like BuzzFeed and NPR. Phones are getting bigger and bigger — even Apple is rumored to be increasing the iPhone’s screen size this year — but until we have eyewear devices that fill our entire field of vision with large graphics, smaller images will be a price we pay for the convenience of mobile devices.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t strategies for making photos more powerful on smartphones. The longstanding lesson to “crop for impact” is more relevant than ever in the mobile age, Irby says. There’s no room for users to explore a photo — especially one that isn’t zoomable — on mobile, so photos should be cropped to emphasize the most important details.

That could be a job for mobile and social media editors, but it’s also something photographers should keep in mind as they’re shooting. Identify details and magnify them. Look for powerful expressions. Understand that wide shots don’t work as well.

Irby said calls-to-action could be a way for news organizations to get readers to view photos in their full glory. They’re normally not shy to refer audiences to other formats — for example, NPR asks listeners to go online, and newspapers promote online content. So why not suggest that mobile readers return to a story on an iPad or laptop later to see particularly powerful photos at full size?

‘You’re reaching more people’

Of course, smartphones have also had a major positive impact on photography. Wroblewski pointed to the Instagram work of the Chicago Tribune’s Scott Strazzante:

“I think people are starting to realize that just because you have a camera on your phone, not everybody’s a good photographer,” Wroblewski said. The best Instagram accounts, he said, are those run by professional photographers, and many of them, like the AP’s David Guttenfelder, have been widely recognized for that work.

Wroblewski himself takes some incredible photos for mobile devices, sometimes with his iPhone, publishing them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram:



Twitter’s mobile app might not be the ideal medium for viewing detailed images, Wroblewski told me, but many of the photos he shares wouldn’t be published otherwise. What’s important is that a photo is being viewed in the first place, he said: “People see it, and that’s what it’s all about.”

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Thursday, May 15, 2014


Quantcast: Social drives 34 percent of mobile Web traffic, 17 percent of desktop traffic


Nearly 4 in 5 news and entertainment sites are optimized for mobile devices, according to a new report by Web analytics firm Quantcast. And those sites see an average of 33 percent of their overall traffic come from mobile devices, while sites that aren’t mobile-optimized see an average of 28 percent of traffic from mobile.

That correlation could have big implications for social media strategy, too, as Quantcast found that social accounted for 34 percent of mobile referrals, twice as much as social accounted for on desktop. Read more

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Tuesday, Mar. 25, 2014

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News in motion: six ways to be a good mobile editor

So you want to be a mobile editor?

Or maybe you just got the gig. Congratulations! Now what?

I’ve heard that question a lot lately from newly minted mobile editors at organizations big and small. It’s not that surprising. Mobile has been the coming future of news and information for a long time, but many news outlets only woke up to its importance in the last year.

Why? That’s easy: 50 percent. Last year, many news organizations either hit or approached the 50 percent mark in digital traffic coming from mobile. That opened many eyes. It became very clear that mobile isn’t coming — it’s here. It’s been here. Mobile is now. And news organizations need mobile editors more than ever (read on for Six Ways To Be A Good Mobile Editor).

I became The Wall Street Journal’s first — and, at the time, only — mobile editor in 2009. Mobile was different then. Legions of BlackBerries with trackballs still strode the Earth. A new book-sized gadget promised to revolutionize the news business: the black and white eReader. The shockwaves from the iOS asteroid impact had only begun to spread.

The years since have seen remarkable change. Android’s rise. The iPad. HTML5. 4G. Mini tablets. Giant phones. Google Glass. Smart watches. Mobile and tablets overtaking desktops and laptops. Even improved auto-correct that — mostly — doesn’t turn my last name into “Honda.”

The mobile editor job has evolved, too. It’s a job that must be as nimble as the changing technology, adapting as people interact with news in new ways.

In my world, the work changed from running a BlackBerry app and a first-generation mobile website to conceiving of, building and running entirely new tablet and phone apps plus creating publishing tools, global newsroom workflows and cross-platform content algorithms. Lately, I’ve been pondering hard the future of journalism amid the Internet of Things. Across five years, I went from being a solo act to leading a mobile editorial team.

There is no one set job description for a mobile editor. It will vary from organization to organization and situation to situation. The needed skills will vary, too. There are many flavors and combinations.

For most, the job will likely involve curating news and multimedia presentation on a mobile app or website, providing human editorial judgment. At the other end, it might be about overseeing content algorithms and automated publishing to phones and tablets. It could be both roles, too.

The job often involves making sure graphics and images are mobile-friendly. It could be about working with developers, designers and product folks on setting a direction and helping create new news experiences. It might involve troubleshooting tech problems or testing new mobile advances. Maybe you’ll work with mobile and tablet news aggregator partners, too. It could be deeply technical work down to coding or perhaps not that at all, instead more focused on daily news tasks like sending out breaking news push alerts.

Very often it is an advocacy job, spreading the mobile way in the newsroom since what begins with a mobile editor must end with an entire organization thinking about news on mobile and platforms beyond.

And the job could even be all of these things. Trust me, it can happen.

When I’m hiring a mobile editor — and I’ve hired more than half a dozen of them since 2010 — the first thing I look for is news judgment. That surprises folks. They expect me to rattle off a big list of tech qualifications like Homer naming the ships. Tech skills from serious coding to Photoshop chops are a big plus, but not the heart of what’s needed. Instead, I look for a high and almost instinctive comfort level with technology.

Since everyone loves a list these days, I will not disappoint:

Six Ways to be a Good Mobile Editor

  • A mobile editor needs to be a mobile user. A serious mobile user. Simply owning a smart phone isn’t enough. Because if you don’t live it, you don’t get it. If you’re not using apps and mobile websites and mobile tools yourself in your own life, it’s all but impossible to do a good job serving that audience.
  • Know you are a journalist. No question. This is a real journalism job. You may not be an “editor” in the traditional sense of the word, but you still have to understand news, to value clarity and accuracy and immediacy and relevance and speed.
  • Be a mobile tech MacGyver. The technology has been around a while, but in the big picture a lot is still new and changing very fast, especially in newsrooms. So you must be willing to dive into the guts of it when things inevitably break. More so if you don’t have lots of tech resources on call. Learn to speak the language of developers. And keep the duct tape handy.
  • Understand the vast variables. A lot can affect a mobile user’s experience with news. Screen size. Device rotation. Operating system and version. Device age and processing power. Connection quality. Location. Time of day. App versus Web. Adaptive versus responsive. It is indeed a lot to keep in your head, but serving a digital audience has come a long way since Netscape browser testing.
  • Fight for the users (yes, a Tron reference in addition to Homer and MacGyver). In this day and age, an editor does more than edit. To deliver a meaningful, beautiful, relevant, engaging mobile news experience, a mobile editor has to be there on the front lines every day understanding how the constant flow of news, the changing technology and the many needs of readers and viewers come together.
  • Be an advocate. Despite mobile being everywhere, in many newsrooms the mobile editor might be the only person who understands mobile deeply. And the only one who gets why it is so important and so critical to the future of news and journalism. So you must teach and talk and train, one person at a time if necessary. Tell them why “click here” is a bad thing to write in a world of touch screens.

Today’s mobile editors are a diverse bunch. Some are former reporters, specialists in everything from deep data to high fashion. They come from print. They come from online. They come from video.

It is a great, crazy time for mobile news. Innovation is nonstop and crops up everywhere. You’ve got aggregators and atomizers and immersives. There’s no stopping the numbers: mobile is where people are and where they will be — at least for a while. And mobile editors are often the guides, figuring it out as they go and leading the way.

So, welcome aboard, new mobile editors. It can be a scary job in a land of constant upheaval, but that’s what makes it worth doing.

David Ho is editor for mobile, tablets and emerging technology at The Wall Street Journal. He is founding editor and co-creator of the WSJ iPad app and Tablet Edition. As a reporter for Cox News and The Associated Press, Ho covered presidents, protests and the pope as well as tech, telecom and terrorism. A Poynter Institute Ethics Fellow, Ho also teaches mobile and tablet journalism at the City University of New York. Follow him on Twitter @DavidHo. Read more


Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014


Bloomberg View: latest mobile-first site to embrace the grid, shun visual hierarchy

Bloomberg View, no longer just an opinion vertical at, has launched a standalone, image-heavy website, which publisher Tim O’Brien told Capital New York is “a departure for Bloomberg.”

But the startling new emphasis on visuals borders on overkill. Here’s how Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton put it:

Read more

Friday, Feb. 21, 2014


Facebook bets on big future for ‘dark social’ sharing with WhatsApp acquisition

If Facebook wants to maintain its dominance over our social lives online, its acquisition of hot messenger platform WhatsApp indicates it could do so without becoming the hellish, share-everything-with-everyone company from Dave Eggers’ “The Circle.”

With WhatsApp, Facebook now offers a significant dark social product — a way for users to share content with small groups of people away from the spotlight of a public social network. While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used the term “open” eight times in a letter defining the company for its IPO, he’s clearly also interested in the growing market for more closed-off forms of communication — from private platforms like WeChat and Kik to very, very private platforms like Whisper and Secret.

Zuckerberg again used the term “open” in a statement about the WhatsApp acquisition but also emphasized that sharing can take many forms:

Our mission is to make the world more open and connected. We do this by building services that help people share any type of content with any group of people they want. WhatsApp will help us do this by continuing to develop a service that people around the world love to use every day.

So what’s the impact for publishers? Liz Gannes of Re/code reported Thursday that BuzzFeed has included an option to share content via WhatsApp in iOS — and the WhatsApp button has drawn more action than the Twitter button:

“Every time we looked at WhatsApp’s numbers, it blew us away,” said BuzzFeed president Jon Steinberg. “We knew last April this was a huge social network and have become increasingly obsessed with it.”

See the green button? BuzzFeed already offers iPhone users the ability to quickly share content via WhatsApp.

BuzzFeed’s option to share via WhatsApp is offered alongside icons for sharing via Facebook and Twitter. But as Gannes notes, it’s distinct from those platforms in that the sharing is private (i.e. person-to-person), more like SMS texting or email. (Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton helpfully cautions against reading too much into the behavior BuzzFeed observed.)

So what’s most interesting about the deal is not that Facebook gobbled up a burgeoning social-media competitor, but that it acquired a platform that allows users to share very differently than Facebook users. Facebook users broadcast content widely; WhatsApp users target content narrowly. Users of Facebook discover content (especially in its new Paper app); users of WhatsApp receive it.

That doesn’t look like two services competing in the same space. That looks like two services that, thanks to their massive user bases, together could meet all our sharing needs — both public and private (especially if WhatsApp maintains its appealing commitment to privacy). The biggest social network could become the biggest player in dark social, too, if more consumers turn away from sharing links via Google products like Gmail and Hangouts and toward sharing links via WhatsApp — and if WhatsApp makes a play for tablet and desktop users, too, becoming a cross-platform version of Apple’s iMessage, available everywhere all the time.

The New York Times famously highlights dark social sharing throughout its site with its “Most Emailed” widget. It also publishes lists of the stories most tweeted and shared on Facebook. The lists tend to differ in fascinating ways, reflecting not only the platforms’ different user bases but also the different thinking behind the decision to share a link with one person versus the decision to share a link with many people. It would be interesting to see if a “Most Shared via WhatsApp” list more closely resembled email sharing or Facebook sharing — or if it surfaced entirely different content, uniquely suited to a WhatsApp sharing mentality.

If readers — particularly younger ones — continue to see WhatsApp as an easier, more relevant way to share content with small numbers of people than comparatively antiquated email and SMS, publishers would do well to follow BuzzFeed’s lead, facilitate WhatsApp sharing and see where it leads.

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Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014

Quartz on an iPad

Does it matter that mobile-native Quartz has a mobile-minority audience?

As much as mobile is poised to keep growing in 2014, old desktop habits die hard — especially during business hours. That leaves Quartz, Atlantic Media’s 18-month-old business site, with a fascinating hand after going all-in on mobile.

Despite its birth to founders intent on nurturing its appeal to smartphone and tablet users, Quartz finds that almost 60 percent of its visitors still read it on the plain old desktop computer.

A year ago, around 30 percent of its unique visitors arrived at fast-growing Quartz on mobile devices; its latest three-month average stood at 41 percent. So while mobile is gaining ground, I was surprised to learn that mobile-first and mobile-native Quartz has been and remains a big deal on desktop. It doesn’t take a futurist to predict that desktops will soon cede their majority standing, but if you treat smartphones and tablets as their own categories, Quartz will likely see its desktop plurality endure for a bit longer.

Nothing’s broken about Quartz on a desktop browser, but as with some other responsive designs I’ve highlighted, it only takes one glimpse to realize it was built primarily for smaller devices.

“We designed for tablet first and adapted the design to mobile (smartphones),” said Kevin Delaney, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Quartz, by phone. “That’s partly why the site on desktop doesn’t feel like a conventional news site. The genesis of it was in tablet and mobile.”

Of the 41 percent of unique visitors coming from either tablets or smartphones, three-fourths consist of smartphone users. That means, in its effort to be as future-oriented as possible, Quartz optimized its site first for a tablet platform that still accounts for only about 1 in 10 of its 5 million monthly unique visitors.

Quartz on an iPad

Quartz wouldn’t give me specific numbers about total visits or engaged time on site, and said the site’s infinite scroll rendered page view metrics less useful. A spokeswoman did say that the percentage of total visits coming via mobile was in line with the percentage of unique visitors coming via mobile, so it doesn’t sound like desktop users are any less engaged than their mobile counterparts are.

It speaks to the quality of Quartz’s content that its tertiary target audience in terms of platform became its primary audience in practice, but there’s also some irony there. A neat thing about Quartz is that it constantly tweaks its code to adjust to how readers are using the site, and Delaney said Quartz would be rolling out some navigation changes this year that would have the biggest impact for users on large screens.

“We’re not writing off desktop,” he said. “It remains a real priority for us.”

Social strategy and the 9-to-5 workday

Meanwhile, Quartz has also optimized its content for social shareability. Indeed, more than 50 percent of its traffic arrives via social referrals, Delaney told me, adding that mobile and social strategies often go hand-in-hand.

Yet despite all the recent headlines about Facebook and Twitter’s dominance on mobile, social is still a great way to reach people at their computer desks, too.

While 77 percent of Facebook’s active users in December accessed the site via mobile devices at some point, 76 percent of active users still accessed it via desktop at some point. Growth in mobile users outpaces the decrease in desktop users because, of course, users don’t have to pick one or another. Mobile visits don’t always cannibalize desktop visits, as anyone who finds himself absentmindedly browsing Twitter in the checkout line even after spending the day with Twitter on the web knows.

(Among the headlines after Twitter’s first earning report was that 76 percent of its monthly active users come from mobile, but without knowing the percentage of desktop MAUs it’s impossible to determine how much of the rise in mobile use is coming at the expense of desktop use — and therefore how much Twitter should be considered a mobile medium rather than a platform-agnostic one. Probably they want us to think they’re the former.)

Mirroring the overall industry trend, Quartz’s desktop traffic is highest during the 9-to-5 workday, when its large audience of business professionals is likely to be stuck on computers. A further irony of Quartz’s mobile-first strategy is that business news tends to break during the day — not on nights and weekends, when tablet use soars and Quartz is least active on social media.

Give Quartz credit for playing the long game and for achieving such spectacular growth, whatever the platform. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to fault Quartz for failing to surpass the arbitrary 50 percent mobile traffic threshold that the ESPNs and BuzzFeeds of the world are noted for crossing.

Yet there’s something sobering about the fact that providing readers with a fantastic mobile-first interface doesn’t necessarily mean mobile is where the bulk of your audience will be just yet. Quartz is awesome on tablets and less awesome on desktop, yet more people read it on desktop. If even Quartz’s audience — which includes readers from around the globe, many of whom access the web mostly via smartphones — hasn’t gone all-in for mobile yet, it’s no surprise that other news organizations have refrained from making similar long-term gambles.

There’s a reason 2014 is being called the third or fourth annual “year of mobile.” As Quartz shows, the mobile revolution isn’t as sudden as it’s often portrayed, and audiences still have some adjusting to do. Quartz will meet them on the other side.

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Tuesday, Feb. 04, 2014

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3 ways Facebook’s Paper app outperforms other news aggregators (and 3 ways it doesn’t)

Paper, the first app from Facebook’s Creative Labs available now for iPhones, could challenge Flipboard, Zite and Feedly in the business of aggregating news on mobile devices. Not only does it beautify your Facebook newsfeed, but it also links to content from major news sources in various sections like Headlines (news), Score (sports), Exposure (photos) and Planet (science and sustainability). Here are some reasons Paper might be the news reader for you (or not):

Pictures feel bigger (but not always better)

Almost all screens, from movie theaters to TVs to computers to tablets, are horizontal for a reason (tablet users seem to prefer the landscape orientation to portrait, but of course it’s used both ways). So it’s often frustrating to view our horizontal world through the tiny vertical window of a phone. Pinch-to-zoom works OK for seeing more detail, but the multitouch gesture is a little cumbersome and, of course, zooming makes it impossible to see the entire image at once.

Paper’s tilt-to-pan function sometimes misses the mark, as in this photo of Philip Seymour Hoffman that isn’t improved by automatic zooming.

Paper offers an interesting solution to the problem of awkward mobile photo exploration by automatically zooming in on images and allowing users to pan left or right by tilting their phones. That makes for a cool immersive experience when viewing photos of scenes such as this one, with Kenyan police raiding a mosque.

But other times the feature feels gimmicky, disorienting and arbitrary. Is it really necessary for me to tilt my phone if I want to see either of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s ears? A simple tap of the photo brings up the full, letterboxed view, but I’m not convinced a zoomed-in, full-screen image is always the best way to come across new photos, even on a small screen. In the future, hopefully Paper can develop a way to employ the tilt-to-pan feature only when it makes sense.

Navigation is fun and mostly intuitive (but a little slow)

Paper’s lengthy, audio-narrated guide when first opening the app made me worry about how complex the app’s navigation would be, but the layered navigation was easy to get the hang of. There are no “X” buttons or “done” buttons to get in the way of viewing content, just swipes to dive deeper into content or swipes to dismiss it. Exploring the app’s layers was intuitive in ways exploring for the first time wasn’t.

While this view in the Paper app allows readers to see more than one story at once, zoomed-out story cards at the bottom of the screen are practically unreadable.

Yet the story-selection process itself isn’t as pleasurable as it is in other apps. In single-story view, for instance, you lose the the quick-browsing advantage of flicking your finger to scroll through your newsfeed in Facebook’s primary app. Each story has to be evaluated and considered in isolation before you flip to the next one, slowing down the process of zeroing in on the content you really want.

Each piece of content, from a status update to a shared photo to a link to a news story, gets its own story card taking up the entire screen. Jumping back a layer in Paper does allow you to see a carousel of zoomed-out story cards (see screenshot), but the photos and type are hopelessly tiny. Feedly, Zite and Flipboard all allow more than one legible piece of content on the screen at once, providing more on-screen choice and requiring less thumb action.

It’s very social (but only when it comes to Facebook)

One beauty of Zite, the smart aggregator owned by CNN, is that I can thumbs-up or thumbs-down stories without worrying about anyone but the algorithm knowing what a sucker I am for fake Apple product mock-ups or statistical analyses of Peyton Manning’s legacy. At the same time, if I want to share what I read via Facebook, Twitter, or Google+, it’s easy to do so. But Paper, naturally, is all about Facebook, so likes are public and you can’t even tweet from the app.

(To be fair, the official Twitter app doesn’t exactly facilitate posting to Facebook, either. You can always link your Facebook account to Twitter and vice versa, but the platforms often demand different types of sharing, limiting the usefulness of posting the same content simultaneously.)

That Paper is so intensely Facebook-centric brings all the advantages of in-app commenting on stories, engaging with friends and seeing which news stories are most popular according to more than a billion users. But as a pure news aggregator it falls short of multi-platform sharing functionality of Zite, Flipboard, Feedly and Inside. If you’re a Facebook junkie and want a little bit of aggregated news on the side, Paper could become the only Facebook app and only news app you need. But it’s no major threat to Flipboard and the like yet.

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Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014

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Has ‘curate’ replaced ‘aggregate’ as the default term for summarizing other people’s news?

While exploring the new app, which collects content from a variety of news organizations and summarizes stories in a maximum of 300 characters, I wasn’t surprised to see the term “curators” in its App Store description.

But I was a little surprised to see the term regurgitated without question in so many news stories about Inside — at Time, at TechCrunch, at Capital New York, at the Next Web, at CNET.

Curation’s a lofty term for summarizing other journalists’ reporting — even for high-level summarizing from multiple sources, which doesn’t seem to be Inside’s M.O. So let’s call it what it is, even if the term comes with some baggage: aggregation. Read more


Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014

Spiegelplatten reflektieren Frankfurter Passanten und Gebaeude fuer Werbeaktion

As CNN mobile traffic hits 40%, editor calls web vs. apps debate ‘red herring’

CNN announced last week that mobile page views accounted for 40 percent of its overall traffic, the result of equally emphasizing its mobile website and mobile apps even as some in the industry remain stuck in an either-or debate.

ESPN’s traffic crossed the 50 percent mobile threshold late last year and BuzzFeed’s traffic is also majority mobile, but CNN’s 40 percent is impressive for a general news organization — one known to take particular advantage of softer content. “We’ve been saying 2014 is going to be the year that we go over 50 percent for mobile usage,” said Meredith Artley, CNN Digital’s managing editor.

I wondered if CNN was shifting resources away from apps and toward the mobile web, especially in light of reports like the latest from Flurry Analytics that indicate news apps struggle to compete with social media apps for mobile users’ attention. (Flurry found use of social/messaging apps grew 203 percent in 2013, compared with just 31 percent in the news/magazines category.)

But Artley told me via phone she doesn’t get caught up in the ever-shifting rhetoric surrounding mobile apps:

One month, they’re dead, they’re hard, they’re expensive, you have to get approval, they’re closed off. … Then the next month you hear they take advantage of the mobile platform in a way the mobile web can’t. It feels like a roller coaster that really I think is a red herring, mobile web versus apps.

It’s impossible to argue that the best answer to the web vs. app debate is “both,” and Artley acknowledged many news organizations don’t have the global resources — as CNN does — to devote to every platform imaginable. (The Financial Times is a notable global brand that did make a choice to go web-only.)

CNN’s mobile website, shown here on a Nokia Lumia 520 Windows Phone, conveniently — or annoyingly — points readers to the mobile app.

Still, I was surprised to hear that CNN is as bullish on mobile apps as it is on the mobile web — but maybe I shouldn’t have been, considering a visit to CNN’s mobile site yields a prompt to download the CNN app.

At the same time, CNN app downloads across platforms have been flat in the last three years, with 13 million downloads in 2011, 12 million in 2012 and another 12 million in 2013, perhaps reflecting users’ increasing reluctance to bury themselves in apps on their devices.

Of course, I wouldn’t expect CNN to discontinue its apps altogether in favor of the mobile web even if it felt apps were going out of style. News outlets needed native apps in the early days of the iPhone and iPad, so those existing user bases would be tough to abandon, and the CNN app does currently present the news more cleanly and visually than CNN’s mobile site does. (And apps tap in to a device’s notification system, no small consideration if your bread and butter is breaking news.)

On the other hand, it’s hard not to be persuaded by one of the common arguments we hear and that Artley brought up: apps are too walled-off to remain relevant in an increasingly connected media landscape. Add the fact that CNN has two of the 10 most-followed brands on Twitter and the largest Facebook audience of any news organization, and why should CNN push readers to an app that doesn’t offer an experience significantly better than its mobile website does? And given the relentless dominance of social apps, why not make sure your website reflects your best foot forward on mobile? Is 2014 the right time to be directing readers away from the web and toward an app?

Then again, the social/messaging platforms that are growing fastest and perhaps at the expense of news/magazine apps — WeChat, SnapChat, Instagram, etc. — hardly offer much to news organizations. So it’s not as simple as saying, “Social is huge, so the best strategy is to be as shareable as possible on social.” Some of the hottest new social apps aren’t built for the type of sharing that would draw heavy traffic to CNN’s mobile site anyway.

Worth noting

  • Artley said mobile traffic remains pretty consistent throughout all seven days of the week, but desktop drops by half on weekends, reflecting industrywide trends. She also, interestingly, said desktop was becoming a “niche platform” with massive numbers mainly between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (Desktop still accounts for a majority of CNN’s traffic, so that’s a pretty big niche.)
  • CNN’s video traffic was dominated one day last week by that weird devil baby promotion, posted late Wednesday night to Facebook and shared over 1,500 times. The lessons: You never know what will rule a day (it’s often not hard news), and being active on social media as people are falling asleep with their mobile devices is a smart idea.
  • While the news giant saw 40 percent mobile traffic overall in 2013, two months — August and November — tallied 44 percent mobile traffic.

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