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.


Smaller Beats Bigger

An excerpt from Exponential Organisations

“Size Does Matter, Just not the Way You Think…

Ronald Coase won the 1991 Nobel Prize in Economics for his theory that larger companies do better because they aggregate assets under one roof and, as a result, enjoy lower transaction costs. Two decades later, the reach delivered by the information revolution has negated the need to aggregate assets in the first place.

For decades, scale and size have been desirable traits in an enterprise. A bigger company could do more, the argument went, because it could leverage economies of scale and negotiate from strength. That’s one reason why, for generations, business schools and consulting firms have focused on the management and organization of extremely large companies. And Wall Street has gotten rich trading the stock of giant companies, which often merge to create even more gigantic organizations.

All that is changing. In The Start-up of You, Reid Hoffman shows that transaction costs are no longer an advantage and that each individual can (and should) manage himself or herself as a business. Why? One reason is the unparalleled and unprecedented ability of a small team today to do big things—an ability that grows ever greater if the exponential technologies described in Chapter One are put to use. Both now and in the coming years, adaptability and agility will increasingly eclipse size and scale.

A telling example is how Netflix, with its centralized DVD rentals and small footprint, easily outmaneuvered and eventually destroyed Blockbuster, despite its 9,000 stores and distributed geographical assets. In the software world,, which operates 100 percent in the cloud, can adapt to changing market conditions much faster than can competitor SAP, given that the latter requires customized installations onsite.

We’ve already discussed Airbnb, which by leveraging its users’ existing assets, is now valued at more than the Hyatt Hotels chain worldwide. While Hyatt has 45,000 employees spread out across its 549 properties, Airbnb has just 1,324, all located in a single office. Similarly, Lending Club, Bitcoin, Clinkle and Kickstarter are forcing a radical rethinking of the banking and venture capital industries, respectively. (No retail outlets are involved in these new financial tech startups.)

Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is structured to maximize the benefits of a small-form factor. Its global research center is home to the company’s R&D department and a unit that spins out new businesses under the umbrella brand. The Branson group now consists of more than four hundred companies, all operating independently. Collectively, they are worth $24 billion.

As Peter Diamandis has often noted, one key advantage of a small team is that it can take on much bigger risks than a large one can. This can be seen clearly in the graph below—courtesy of Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab—which shows how startups are characterized by high upside potential and low downside, while large organizations are characterized by just the opposite.”

Excerpt from “Exponential Organizations: Why new organizations are ten times better, faster, and cheaper than yours (and what to do about it)” by Salim Ismail, Michael S. Malone, Yuri van Geest, Peter H. Diamandis)

The problem with experts

An excerpt from Exponential Organisations

The reason “Disruption is the New Norm” is that democratized, accelerating technologies, combined with the power of community, can now extend Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma to an unstoppable force.

The old saw that an expert is “somebody who tells you why something cannot be done” is truer than ever before. History has shown that the best inventions or solutions rarely come from experts; they almost always come from outsiders. That is, from people who aren’t domain experts but who offer a fresh perspective.

When Kaggle runs a competition, it has found that the first responders are experts in a particular domain who say, “We know this industry, we’ve done this before and we’ll figure it out.” And just as inevitably, within two weeks, complete newcomers to the field trounce their best results. For example, the Hewlett Foundation sponsored a 2012 competition to develop an automated scoring algorithm for student-written essays. Of the 155 teams competing, three were awarded a total of $100,000 in prize money. What was particularly interesting was the fact that none of the winners had prior experience with natural language processing (NLP). Nonetheless, they beat the experts, many of them with decades of experience in NLP under their belts.

This can’t help but impact the current status quo. Raymond McCauley, Biotechnology & Bioinformatics Chair at Singularity University, has noticed that “When people want a biotech job in Silicon Valley, they hide their PhDs to avoid being seen as a narrow specialist.”

So, if experts are suspect, where should we turn instead? As we’ve already noted, everything is measurable. And the newest profession making those measurements is the data scientist. Andrew McAfee calls this new breed of data experts “geeks.” He also sees the HiPPO, or “highest paid person’s opinion” as the natural enemy of geeks because HiPPOs still base their opinions largely on intuition or gut feeling. We don’t believe that this is a contest that should be won completely by one side or the other. Instead, we think that when it comes to ExOs, both groups will co-exist—but with a proviso: the role of HiPPOs (or experts) will change. They will continue as the best people to answer questions and identify key challenges, but the geeks will then mine the data to provide the solutions for those challenges.

Excerpt from “Exponential Organizations: Why new organizations are ten times better, faster, and cheaper than yours (and what to do about it)” by Salim Ismail, Michael S. Malone, Yuri van Geest, Peter H. Diamandis)

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.



6 reasons why growing products is so complex

Product development is complex. Outcomes are unpredictable. Here are 6 reasons why.

1. A product’s success depends on it’s audience

At Metro we have millions of users who are inter-connected and who influence each other in unpredictable ways. A single influencer can make or break us on social media.

We know very little about our users. We rarely have conversations with them. We have no signups where they fill out their profile.

We have a good idea of what articles they’ll click/share, but not much idea about what product features they’ll care about.

2. Products faces tough competition.

It’s not enough for a product to be good, it has to be competitive.

We compete for Google rankings. We compete for a slot in Facebook news feeds. We compete for ad revenue. We compete to be a destination.

We compete for attention in an attention-saturated world.

3. Products rely on ever-changing platforms like Facebook and Google

The ecosystem is constantly shifting. Here are just a few of the recent shifts…

  • Facebook launched Instant Articles, Facebook Live, chatbots, and Facebook Stories. Facebook Instants is continually evolving.
  • Apple launched Apple News, then moved from RSS to JSON syndication
  • Google Search rolled out six major updates in 2016
  • Google launched AMP and it’s changing fast
  • Snapchat launched Discover
  • Google Newsstand is adding Omniture support
  • iPhone embraced adblock. Chrome is about to embrace it.

What next?

4. Technology is constantly changing

Social media changed the game. Mobile changed the game.

Riding the mobile wave increased Metro’s traffic by 161%. What’s the next wave for Metro?

There’s also a constant stream of new tech such as CrowdTangle, Bounce Exchange, Content Insights and Google Optimize.

5. People are complicated

We are biased. We have pet projects. We get caught up in company politics. We lose sight of what’s most important. Motivation can fluctuate.

For any particular product feature, we misjudge how important it is. We misjudge how much work it will take to deliver it. We forget to weigh the benefits against the costs. We forget that any day now something big is likely to pop up and derail our plans.

6. Resources are scarce

The lists of things to do is constantly getting longer. The list is infinite, and the resources available are scarce.

Audience, Competitors, Platforms, Technology, People and Scarce resources.

What’s the answer?

How can a digital media brand be successful amid all this complexity?

A good start is to realise that complexity requires a different mindset to complicated. For example, building your own house is complicated.

but a flock of starlings is complex…

(If you want to know more about complex vs complicated check out Cynefin).

We can turn this complexity to our advantage. Find out more in part 2 of this post.

Don’t judge a developer by their job title

I taught myself to program in 1981 (when i was 8) on a ZX81. I submitted a game (“Robin Hood” *cringe*) to Virgin Games when i was 10.

I got my first real job in 1995. I did frontend development for a search engine – including design and UX. I acquainted myself with the UX classics – The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug, and the writings of Jakob Nielsen.

I’d had some informal training as a designer – my mum was a graphic designer and planned for me to follow in her footsteps. Most teenagers had posters of bands on their bedroom walls but i had posters of fonts.

In 1999 i joined Ogilvy, one of the world’s top advertising agencies. It was here that i had the importance of branding drummed into me. (Although i learned more from Start With Why to be honest).

After a stint at a digital media agency i joined DMGT in 2005. It’s where i work now.

Many projects at DMGT lacked a business case, and had little value. I was desperate to make the business (and not just the dev team) more agile.

I found inspiration in Adapt, by economist Tim Harford (my degree was Business Economics). I self-published a short book about business agility and innovation. I soon discovered the Lean Startup movement which articulated the ideas far better. I founded a meetup about it – the London branch of the Stoos Network.

Early on at DMGT i was given management responsibilities. As part of this i did 2 years of management training. I also became a certified ScrumMaster.

I’ve been at Metro (part of DMGT) for 10 years.

I consider myself what Google calls a “smart creative“.