Realtime messaging for news sites

Messaging is the most popular thing on the internet. It’s even more popular than social networks.

What if news sites could get a piece of the action? To find out, i built a messaging widget for Metro…

We wanted to find out quickly if the idea had potential so i kept the widget simple:

  • No login required
  • No need to choose a username – one gets randomly generated for you e.g. BlueSquirrel. (If you’re logged to WordPress it uses your WordPress username but most users won’t be logged in).

We did want some precautions in place though:

  • Blacklist offensive phrases
  • Report abuse

So far i’ve load tested the server with Artillery and it serves thousands of concurrent users on a single EC2 node.

Watch this space for to find out if it was a hit with our audience!


WordPress curation: beyond Zoninator

Introducing Curator for curating WordPress homepages…

Here’s the “Zoninator” it’s replacing.

Zoninator served Metro well for several years but as the site has grown, the editors need more control.

How is Curator better?

  1. Editors can customise how content is displayed – portrait crops, sections, custom headlines, etc
  2. Editors can see the featured image
  3. Searching is much simpler e.g. search results are always visible in the sidebar
  4. Saving is simpler and more robust e.g. content can be dragged straight into the relevant slot (as opposed to “append-then-drag”).
  5. Integrated analytics

Future versions might ditch the WordPress furniture. Here’s an early mockup (using Bulma).

How does Curator compare to other page builders?

Some news sites have WYSIWYG page builders (like The Sun’s one here) but they have a big flaw – they layout desktop pages even though most users are on mobile.

Page builders should be content first, not desktop first.

That’s the principle behind Curator. It’s not only better but simpler too!

News: what WON’T change in the next 10 years?

Jeff Bezos says the most important question is, what WON’T change in the next 10 years?(As opposed to the more commonly asked, “what WILL change in the next 10 years”).

What won’t change for news in the next 10 years?

  1. People will still want fresh content on demand
  2. People will still want content that resonates with them
  3. People will still respond to simplicity, unexpectedness, credibility, “concreteness” (not abstractness), emotion and stories. (Made To Stick).
  4. People will still want to feel part of something bigger. (Start With Why).

The most important question you should be asking

From Jeff Bezos via TechCrunch

I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. … [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’

How quickly does the news industry change?

The landscape shifts every two weeks. Here are some of the changes up to August 2017…

What have i missed?

The potential of personalisation

How much could personalisation increase engagement?

Here is my best guess at engagement for 100 stories on a typical news homepage. (I estimate that relevant stories have a CTR of 15% as opposed to 10%).

  • 30 stories relevant tag/category. 4.5 interesting
  • 70 stories not relevant. 7 interesting
  • TOTAL: 11.5 interesting

With a mix of personalisation and curated:

  • 60 stories relevant tag/category. 9 interesting
  • 40 stories not relevant. 4 interesting
  • TOTAL: 13 interesting

That’s an increase of 13%. I’ll update the numbers as i continue to gather data.


Why growing products is so complex – part 2

My last post talked about the complexity we face. This post gives 7 ways we can turn that complexity to our advantage.

1. Audiences are complex. We can gain an advantage if we can get feedback from real users faster than our competitors do.


2. Our product faces tough competition. We can outflank our competitors if we prioritize more ruthlessly than them.

3. Technology is complex. Don’t think, “we’ll figure out the requirements and then throw it over to the tech team”.

We can beat our competitors by being more collaborative than them. We need deep collaboration from kickoff to launch and beyond.

How do the most successful company in the world grow their products?

Because he [Jobs] believed that Apple’s great advantage was its integration of the whole widget—from design to hardware to software to content—he wanted all departments at the company to work together in parallel. The phrases he used were “deep collaboration” and “concurrent engineering.”

Instead of a development process in which a product would be passed sequentially from… design to manufacturing to marketing and distribution, these various departments collaborated simultaneously. “Our method was to develop integrated products, and that meant our process had to be integrated and collaborative,” Jobs said.

4. People are complicated. Think in terms of “smart creatives“, not org charts. It’s how Google out-innovate their competitors.

5. The platforms we rely on are constantly changing. That’s why we need to start thinking like a platform – how can we turn our readers from passive consumers to active co-creators?

6. Resources are scarce. It’s possible to get a degree in the allocation of scarce resources. It’s called economics. Google, Airbnb and others hire economists (detail here).

You don’t need to hire an economist, but you need someone on the team with an economics mindset.

7. Change is the only constant. This works to your advantage if you’re more adaptable than your competitors.

As Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

The six pointers above will all help your team be more adaptable. They feed into each other, something like this…

More adaptable

Beware of applying linear thinking to complex challenges.