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.


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)