Category: mobile

Email is mobile (Or how to spend 10 hours and save 30 minutes)

Actually, the headline is 50/50 clickbait. But this is about email and mobile and a bit about time-savings.

I try to send a weekly collection of mobile and product-related links out to an internal list of about 100 people at work. Collecting and formatting those is always a hassle so I gave up and spent a few hours actually writing some code to handle the bulk of the work.

It is 50 lines of Python relying on Feedparser to pull stories from my Instapaper unread list and Newspaper to do some basic processing and generate a useful-enough summary. The headline, summary and link are then formatted as RTF to make it easy to copy-paste into a Google Groups message. The code resides on my Mac and is triggered by an Automator script for convenience. You can find the Python script on GitHub if you are interested. “It works” is all I will say about my proficiency. The biggest learning curve was figuring out character encoding and what Python does and RTF expects. The script should work for any standard RSS feed but I have not tested it elsewhere.

Bottom line, the project took me about 10 hours, and it will probably save me 30 minutes a week. So I should be seeing a positive ROI by August.

For interest, this week’s newsletter below:

New feature aims to get distracted or inactive users to engage further with Washington Post content
Our consumers want Washington Post content, and our advertisers want to be associated with Washington Post content. When a mobile user rapidly swipes past content or stops interacting, The Washington Post will deliver a “Re-Engage” unit that recommends content. Today The Washington Post RED team launched a new product that delivers a tailored experience to users when they are inattentive or inactive on mobile web. “Re-Engage” is a new feature that provides personalized content recommendations and appears when mobile users show signs of distraction or stop engaging with Post content when on article pages. This is the third official product released by RED, the ad research experimentation and development group, at The Washington Post.

Why micropayments aren’t the ad blocking antidote
The problems with micropayments are still there, even with ad blocking: Micropayments are a total hassle for people. Now, with the continued rise of ad blocking, new hope again is pinned on pay-per-article schemes for ad-blocking readers. But despite this flurry of interest, a large contingent of U. K.  publishers are skeptical of micropayments as a savior for ad blocking. Several publishers dismissed micropayments as a way to stunt the growth of ad blocking. “The fact is, consumers dislike micropayments,” said Tom Standage, deputy editor of The Economist, referring to Clay Shirky’s essay in 2000 on the subject.

The psychology of simple
We love simple things because they’re easy on our brain — it doesn’t have to work as hard to understand them. We may ‘know it when we see it’, but there’s more behind what makes a product, book, or website feel simple and easy than just a gut reaction. Simple things have a low psychological barrier of entry. Every ‘type’ of site, from an online magazine to a fashion blog, has these prototypical elements. Steal from the pastAs it’s hopefully clear by now, prototypical elements are the basis of simplicity.

With Accelerated Mobile Pages Coming This Month, Google Aims to Reinvent the Mobile Web
It is finally ready to go wide with its Accelerated Mobile Page initiative, allowing any participating publisher to deliver content at lightning-quick speed through the mobile web. Credit: GoogleIt’s a challenging time for the mobile web. “Publishers’ new landscapeTo overhaul the mobile web in such a short time, Google needed to get top tier publishers and ad tech vendors on board. And it works for the web, where Google wants consumers to stay, instead of rivals’ apps. Readers who prefer light-hearted content can visit Hearst through Snapchat Discover while those who are seeking more traditional news information might use their mobile web browser, for example.

Wired Is Launching an Ad-Free Website to Appease Ad Blockers
More than 1 in 5 people who visit Wired Magazine’s website use ad-blocking software. The portion of his readership that uses ad blockers are likely to be receptive to a discussion about their responsibility to support the businesses they rely on for information online, McClusky said. Wired plans to charge $3. 99 for four weeks of ad-free access to its website. So far, though, the fear of alienating readers has outweighed the fear of losing revenue to ad blockers. Over the past 23 years, we’ve pushed the boundaries of media, from our print magazine to launching the first publishing website.

How we used design research to launch The New York Times en Español
We also followed our field research with ongoing, iterative quantitative research. We collaborated with a stellar Mexico-based research team to help us with session moderation, simultaneous interview translation, and cultural translation. A year ago I led a design research field project to explore how The Times could best share its journalism with the Spanish-speaking world. How we used design research to launch The New York Times en EspañolI’m on a plane to Mexico City, a place that I got to know last year, and a place that I now love. What we learned from that in-depth research — as well as from subsequent exploration — led directly to today’s launch of The New York Times en Español.

Washington Post’s ‘Bandito’ Tool Optimizes Content For Clicks
The Washington Post’s newsroom Photo: Getty ImagesThe Washington Post is experimenting with technology to automatically optimize articles on its website for maximum readership. Clickbait works for a while, but not long-term,” said Sam Han, engineering director of data science at the Washington Post. “We have terrifically reported stories and I just want to best explain to readers why they should be interested,” said Eric Rich, editor of The Washington Post’s Universal News Desk. A new internally-developed tool, dubbed “Bandito,” allows editors to enter different article versions with varying headlines, images and teaser text into its content management system. This allows editors to essentially “set and forget” the tool, the company said, which makes the process more efficient.

Newsonomics: The New York Times restarts its new-product model, in Spanish
The New York Times en Español launches with four initial, three-month sponsors, a good representation. That’s out of about 500 million Spanish speakers worldwide, primarily in Latin America and Spain. Of that number, perhaps NYT en Español will contribute somewhere in the five figures — at some point. “If you look at Latin America, you certainly have a pool of potential advertisers of those that are pan-Latin,” says Dunbar-Johnson. 1 spot on Forbes’ wealth list, owns América Móvil, the largest mobile carrier in Latin America.

Forbes guarantees its native ads will work
Forbes is applying the same money-back promise it once made for display ads to its native ad product, BrandVoice. Other publishers charge for native based on views (and at least one, the Daily Mail, guarantees views), and there have been performance guarantees on print ads, but Forbes believes its promise is a first for native. The native ad market is getting more crowded, and advertisers are starting to demand to know that their ads actually work. It introduced its original display ad guarantee in 2002 to address doubts about the effectiveness of display ads. Advertisers have to spend $250,000 in native plus display over 60 days (up from the minimum BrandVoice package of $150,000).

Amid big changes in Philly media, startup Billy Penn sticks to its vision
This month, Billy Penn becomes the first digital news startup to partner with PolitiFact, bringing the “Truth-O-Meter” to Pennsylvania politics. Philadelphia skyline (AP photo)In the 16 months since the news startup Billy Penn launched, the media landscape in Philadelphia, the site’s home city, has changed dramatically. Now well into its second year, Billy Penn can point to growth on a number of fronts. That sense of discipline comes with tradeoffs, among them that Billy Penn’s style isn’t for everyone—including, to be honest, me. For all the growth and focus, Billy Penn’s first year also saw its share of adjustments and lessons learned.

Facebook’s iOS Glitch Caused ComScore to Overestimate Time Spent
Based on ComScore’s measurements comparing time spent in the month before the fix and the month after it, the glitch in Facebook’s iOS apps appears to have inflated the total amount of time people in the U. S.  spent using Facebook’s mobile apps by double-digit percentages. For Facebook’s iPad app, total time spent was 39% lower, as was the average amount of time spent per person. And the average amount of time spent by each person who used Facebook’s mobile apps was 24% lower in November than in September. Even though individual users in the U. S.  spent on average 41% less time using Facebook’s iPhone app in November 2015 than they did in September 2015, the average person still spent 636. 2 minutes using Facebook’s iPhone app in November. When looking at time spent on Facebook across its desktop and mobile sites and mobile apps, the total amount of time spent on Facebook was 19% lower in November compared to September, according to ComScore.

Is the tide turning for UX in media?

Here is a word that does not come up often enough in journalism-tech conferences:


Empathy for readers, for advertisers and for colleagues in other departments. (That last one is a big deal if you want to get innovative things done at work.)

Empathy is simply the ability to understand the feelings and perceptions of another person. And it is a key ingredient to making products a person (who is not you) might hope to use and enjoy.

Yesterday at Poynter’s Mobile News Summit (#mobilenews15) in NYC the concept came up quite a bit. Not everyone used the exact word, but their meaning was quite clear. The day was putatively about mobile, but it focused extensively on putting readers and their needs first.

One of my favorite quotes of the day was directly on that topic.

Question: Is there a business case for investing in user experience? Answer from Jim Brady of Billy Penn: Yes. Frustrating users is not a strategy.

The readers we ignore and the news they want

Millennials like news. They just don’t like you – the legacy newsroom.

Don’t take it personally. By all accounts the under-40 crowd and many over forty (API millennial study here) read and value news. But they are not paying for it in larger numbers, and they are certainly not nearly as loyal to a small handful of digital news sources as their parents were to print.

We can argue that the Internet, and even more specifically mobile phones are the leading cause of this disruption. But that takes agency away from journalists and places it squarely on “technology.” And framing it as a tech problem drives us to try and solve it with technology.

“Throw another Snapchat on that mobile template. The young people will love it. Did you check how it looks on the Apple Watch and Google Glass?”

Which is odd, because we know why people read the news, or seek out other types of information: relevancy. Technology is just a convenience that lets us access that information 24/7 in almost any location or context.

Gary Kebbel at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is organizing a conference this Fall: Mobile Me & You and I have been thinking about news, smartphones and relevancy in preparation for a talk there.

So let’s propose a maybe not too controversial theory: While much of the journalism being produced by legacy news organizations is of value to younger readers, it does not entirely speak their language nor fully reflect their lives.

Here’s a tongue-in-cheek test: open up your local printed newspaper – how many comics on the page were launched prior to 1960? FYI – that list includes B.C., Dennis the Menace, Beetle Bailey, Blondie and Prince Valiant.

Comics aside, our failings are sins of omission as much as commission.

Many newspapers are still built to cover “community” as defined seemingly generations ago as rigid beat structures constrained by geography and by local government services. Advocating a change to that system is nothing new; numerous blog posts have covered the ground. Unfortunately, experimentation has come largely but not exclusively from digital news start-ups.

These days, digital-savvy readers live seamlessly between online and offline. is their local market and Netflix their local theater. The problem is neither Amazon or Netflix are “local” in a sense that is recognizable by local media. But, chances are about 30% of your hometown have shopped at Amazon in the past year. And Netflix has 40 million U.S. customers. There is a reason suburban malls are in trouble and Blockbuster went out of business.

Any local media out there covering new Netflix releases that aren’t House of Cards? HuffPo does.

Speaking of video: Good Mythical Morning. Never heard of them? The North Carolina pair appeared recently in an advertising campaign for Wendy’s and have 7.3 million subscribers on YouTube. They have received a smattering of local media coverage. A smattering. Keep in mind the top rated cable TV show last week received 4.9 million viewers.

Any local media out there covering YouTube shows? Tubefilter does.

One last category: games. Mobile games are estimated to be a $25 billion industry this year. Globally the movie industry is a $100 billion business, about $10 billion domestically.

Any local media out there covering mobile games? Vox does – Polygon.

The list goes on: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter are all communities of interest comprised at least in part by your neighbors. Why do we spend so little time highlighting the conversations and content our local readers create on those platforms?

Uber, Yelp, and Pandora all have to some extent supplanted services that were previously hyper-local. But local people still continue to use them. So why don’t we cover them like we cover local taxis, business listings or radio stations?

By ceding “things that happen online” to Internet blogs and digital news start-ups we have washed our hands of a huge swath of human existence. And, we have done so for reasons that are as much due to structure and vision as resources.

This is not a “millennial” problem. It is a gap we face with any digital-friendly audience. It is not a “mobile” problem – though many of these users are mobile-first. It is not a “UX” problem as your user experience doesn’t much matter if readers find nothing of interest to read. The problem is the news industry has gone for years without needing to examine who its audience is or what they want. And our organizations have calcified to the point that it is difficult for us to even ask, much less answer the question.

Without a change in our approach and more attention paid to local lives lived online we will remain in a downward attention spiral. As readers migrate more and more to a hybrid digital/physical existence they will continue to leave us behind. Not because they don’t care about us, but because we don’t seem to care about them.

That’s not how innovation works

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In the New York Times today by Joe Nocera – worth a read:

This Apple, the post-Jobs Apple, has become risk-averse, its innovative capacity reduced to making small tweaks on products it has already brought to market. Though its leadership still talks a good game, it has so far been unable to deliver on the kind of knock-your-socks-off products for which Apple was once famous.

Just to review the timing here:

  • iPod – 2001
  • iPhone – 2007
  • iPad – 2010

So it has been four whole years since they released a product that revolutionized an entire industry. That is less than the span between the iPad and the iPhone (6 years), but more than the iPhone and the iPad (3 years.)

Fair enough then, we should be expecting something more soon. Unless the magic was lost with Steve Jobs as Nocera insists.

But expecting the next big thing to be a mobile device misses the point. Sure, Apple could and probably is moving into wearables. Maybe their next big announcement changes everything about t-shirts or sneakers or whatever.

Or, maybe they continue to build their iTunes ecosystem by disrupting the TV industry as they did with music. (Would that even count as ‘disruptive?’ It is really an evolutionary innovation that is more about lawyers than tech.)

Or, maybe with iBeacons and 600 million iTunes credit cards on file they are about to blow up the world of retail transactions and tie together digital and physical commerce.

They certainly hope to, and that certainly would be disruptive. And the key to disruption is that it reframes the debate in ways people don’t see coming. Like people who thought the iPhone was a fancy iPod that could make phone calls and would be a dud:

An iPod is a divergence device; an iPhone is a convergence device. There’s a big difference between the two. In the high-tech world, divergence devices have been spectacular successes. But convergence devices, for the most part, have been spectacular failures.

Why personalization is hard (and why you need to aggregate.)



Since it launched, Zite has been one of my favorite apps. Keying off my Twitter stream the product does an absolutely amazing job of finding stories I am 1) interested in; 2) had not seen already; 3) from sources I was unlikely to stumble across.

That sort of personalization – saving time by accurately filtering information –  is of huge value to readers. If you can reduce the number of clicks (the currency of the web) needed to find stories of interest, I am likely to return. No surprise that most media organizations have recommended story lists on their websites.

But in many cases these lists are of minimal value. Browsing just now – five of the suggested stories were more than four months old. And I was reading about the Affordable Health Care Act.

The challenge is, even the most prolific news sites (say the NYT) only publish 1000 – 1500 stories daily. Even over a week or a month, there is not enough variety to make an effective recommendation in every case. So, older or less relevant stories are surfaced. But as a pure aggregator Zite is not restricted to a single news source. A billion new pages are added to the world wide web daily. That is more than enough to recommend 50 – 100 highly relevant stories to me each day.

Doing some news math, the filtering value (or number of potential clicks saved) to the user is not comparable:

Zite: (one billion possible stories / 100 filtered stories) = 10,000,000 clicks saved.
News site: (one thousand possible stories / 10 filtered stories) = 100 clicks saved.

Yes, that is a farcical equation and the news site still returns a positive value — but not enough to be competitive.

For news publishers, there are three ways to improve our odds: 1) Improve the algorithms to eliminate outdated or irrelevant articles; 2) Reach outside your own CMS and aggregate stores from other sources; 3) Start focusing your metrics less on raw page views, and more on efficiency and value created for the reader ‘clicks saved.’ (See Cory Bergman’s ‘time saved’ take on this earlier this year.)

Yes, those aggregated links will need to be highly relevant (see improve the algorithm above) and they will lead visitors away from your site. But, all Zite does is send me away. And yet I return every day.