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August 01 2011

14:00

Newsbeat, Chartbeat’s news-focused analytics tool, places its bets on the entrepreneurial side of news orgs

Late last week, Chartbeat released a new product: Newsbeat, a tool that takes the real-time analytics it already offers and tailors them even more directly to the needs of news orgs. Chartbeat is already famously addictive, and Newsbeat will likely up the addiction ante: It includes social sharing information — including detailed info about who has been sharing stories on Twitter — and, intriguingly, notifications when stories’ traffic patterns deviate significantly from their expected path. (For more on how it works, Poynter has a good overview, and GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram followed up with a nice discussion of the decision-making implications of the tool.)

What most stood out to me, though, both when I chatted with Tony Haile, Chartbeat’s general manager, and when I poked around Newsbeat, is what the tool suggests about the inner workings of an increasingly online-oriented newsroom. Chartbeat, the parent product, offers an analytic overview of an entire site — say, Niemanlab.org — and provides a single-moment snapshot of top-performing stories site-wide. Newsbeat, on the other hand, can essentially break down the news site into its constituent elements via a permissioning system that provides personalized dashboards for individual reporters and editors. Newsbeat allows those individual journalists to see, Haile notes, “This is how my story’s doing right now. This is how my people are doing right now.”

On the one hand, that’s a fairly minor thing, an increasingly familiar shift in perspective from organization to person. Still, though, it’s worth noting the distinction Newsbeat is making between news org and news brand. Newsbeat emphasizes the individual entities that work together, sometimes in sync and sometimes not so much, under the auspices of a particular journalistic brand. So, per Newsbeat, The New York Times is The New York Times, yes…but it’s also, and to some extent more so, the NYT Business section and the NYT Politics page and infographics and and blogs and Chris Chivers and David Carr and Maureen Dowd. It’s a noisy, newsy amalgam, coherent but not constrained, its components working collectively — but not, necessarily, concertedly.

That could be a bad thing: Systems that lack order tend to beget all the familiar problems — redundancy, wasted resources, friction both interpersonal and otherwise — that disorder tends to produce. For news orgs, though, a little bit of controlled chaos can be, actually, quite valuable. And that’s because, in the corporate context, the flip side of fragmentation is often entrepreneurialism: Empower individuals within the organization — to be creative and decisive and, in general, expert — and the organization overall will be the better for it. Analytics, real-time and otherwise, serve among other things as data points for editorial decision-making; the message implicit in Newsbeat’s design is that, within a given news org, several people (often, many, many, many people) will be responsible for a brand’s moment-by-moment output.

Which is both obvious and important. News has always been a group effort; until recently, though, it’s also been a highly controlled group effort, with an organization’s final product — a paper, a mag, a broadcast — determined by a few key players within the organization. News outlets haven’t just been gatekeepers, as the cliché goes; they’ve also had gatekeepers, individuals who have had the ultimate responsibility over the news product before it ships.

Increasingly, though, that’s not the case. Increasingly, the gates of production are swinging open to journalists throughout, if not fully across, the newsroom. That’s a good thing. It’s also a big thing. And Newsbeat is reflecting it. With its newest tool, Chartbeat is self-consciously trying to help organize “the newsroom of the future,” Haile told me — and that newsroom is one that will be dynamic and responsive and, more than it’s ever been before, collaborative.

July 28 2011

20:41

Measuring engagement - Newsbeat debuts as robust, real-time Web analytics tool for news publishers

Poyner :: The people behind the popular realtime analytics tool Chartbeat launched a new version today specifically designed for news publishers, called Newsbeat. Instead of e.g. PageImpressions, Visits we're already familiar with, Chartbeat introduced new metrics like "Active Views", "Reading", and "Writing" status, which measure engagement. Newsbeat is an even more powerful tool for understanding your Web traffic, but also comes at a higher cost. The new product shows real-time charts now for every article or page on your site not only for the 20 most active pages.

Jeff Sonderman reviewed Newsbeat's market offering for us.

Continue to read Jeff Sonderman, www.poynter.org

January 13 2011

19:30

National Post rolls out digital “welcome mats”

On Monday, Canada’s National Post published an article about a local school instituting a ban on gay-straight alliance groups. It’s a good local story with broad cultural relevance, and, not surprisingly, it got linked on the web-curiosities aggregator Fark. Which led to a sudden surge in traffic to the story on the Post’s site.

The Post uses the real-time analytics tool Chartbeat — an addiction for many a digital newsie — and so noticed both the spike and its source. So its web production team updated the school story to include a specialized greeting to the new visitors (“Welcome, Fark readers!”), as well as some hand-curated links that it figured might interest members of the Fark community.

“We’re trying to make things just a little more relevant — a little more meaningful — to you in every way we can,” Chris Boutet, the senior producer for digital media at the Post, told me. The paper’s been experimenting with what it calls “welcome mats” since the summer, doing similar experiments with “Westerners vs. the world: We’re the Weird ones” and “Garbage truck cameras give new meaning to trash TV” (“Welcome, Drudge Report readers”);
A Tale of Two Ghettos” (“Welcome, Reddit readers”); and “Margaret Atwood Thinks the Moon Landing Was Fake — Or Does She?” and “When is twins too many?” (“Welcome, Fark readers”).

The Post isn’t the only outlet to experiment with the welcome mat idea. The Wall Street Journal, when it realized that an old story ranked first on a Google search for “Verizon iPhone,” tried something similar, as well. So have we here at the Lab. (If you know of any others, we’d love to hear about them in the comments.)

The mats take a few minutes to put together, Boutet says, and the return isn’t just a matter of more traffic — although that’s certainly part of it. (With the school story, “the clickthrough was just okay,” he notes. “It wasn’t huge, but it certainly was more through traffic than we would have seen if we hadn’t had that there. It always is.”) The bigger idea is brand identity. “We basically have two kinds of readers that visit the site: native readers and nomadic readers. Natives come to you because you’re you; nomadic readers are coming in from other communities or search traffic.” Welcome mats are an attempt to do what every news organization hopes to: to convert some of the nomads into natives. “We’re just trying to get them that little bit deeper into the site,” Boutet notes, and “to get them to develop some opinion or feeling about what the National Post is. And maybe next time, they’ll come back here natively.”

We often talk about the web’s effect on narrative, how its new grammars are changing the way we write and connect and even think. What we talk less about, though, is the web’s effect on the structures narratives operate within: assumptions about what constitutes relevance itself. “Archive,” we assume, is an analog concept. But there’s no need for it to be. There’s nothing to say that older stories can’t find new relevance in a networked environment — or that stories’ structures can’t leverage analytics in the same way that their narratives do. Welcome mats are one way to do that. (For Wordpress users, there’s even a handy plugin, WP Greet Box, that can generate those mats automatically.) Another might be, for example, to add specific social media buttons to stories when they’re seen by users who’ve reached the site from them. (Someone who came to a site from StumbleUpon might see StumbleUpon buttons on the site’s pages, for instance. A Digg visitor would see Digg buttons.)

Real-time analytics — in fact, the plethora of new metrics available for news organizations to learn and otherwise benefit from — mean that outlets have a fantastic new way to relate to their users and, of course, their products. Stories on news sites, Boutet notes, can feel very static. “We fire and forget, and they read it, and no one ever looks at it again.” But welcome mats, and similar real-time updates, can be small gestures of dynamism. “What we want to do is make people aware, in a subtle way, that this is all part of the communication between the reader and the editors of a site. We’re watching you watching us.”

May 05 2010

16:00

Tracking memes on their native turf: Viral anthropology at ROFLcon

If ROFLcon isn’t the world’s largest gathering of Internet celebrities, it at least appears to have the highest concentration. In the audience was Matt Harding, who danced around the world in his series of videos, Where the Hell is Matt? Brad O’Farrell, creator of the viral hit video Play Him Off, Keyboard Cat was around and in costume, as was the man behind the cat’s paws from the original footage, Charlie Schmidt. They were among the many creators and enthusiasts of viral web content meeting at the MIT campus last weekend for the two day conference.

Now in its third year, ROFLcon (Rolling on the Floor Laughing conference, for the n00bs) seems less like a discussion of some obscure online culture than a look at an edge of the mainstream. After all, 4chan was the answer to a question on Jeopardy. CNN’s played the Keyboard Cat video, and ABC Nightly News had a segment on Three Wolf Moon. Many of the best known web celebrities have appeared on late night talk shows or in ad campaigns.

This year, ROFLcon looked to the past to better understand the Internet memes it celebrates. Guests included Usenet moderators, FidoNet creator Tom Jennings, and Mahir, whose “I Kiss You” website dates back to 1999. But the climate’s different from the web’s earlier days, with the growth of Facebook, Digg, Twitter, 4chan, and other social media networks. That Neiman Marcus cookie recipe couldn’t last an afternoon if it were sent around today.

A viral Tumblr, single serving site, or a humorous web video can now see massive traffic in a short time frame. Tens of millions have seen Matt Harding dance. Over a thousand have added humorous reviews to the Three Wolf Moon Amazon page, and since the meme began, it has ranked among Amazon’s bestselling clothing items. But the behavior of sharing and linking content is difficult to predict.

The hunt for the heart of buzz

The huckster with a formula for making your brand “go viral” is the Brooklyn Bridge salesman of our time, but ROFLcon presenter Jonah Peretti isn’t your average social media “strategist.” The Huffington Post co-founder was invited to talk about the “social reproduction rank” measured at his other website, Buzzfeed.

Buzzfeed’s focus is on the media that gets shared, with buttons and traffic stats on posts indicating the trajectory of these memes. There are millions of people bored at work every day, sharing links with their friends, and that “bored at work network” is bigger than the BBC, NBC, or any media outlet, Peretti explained. High clickthrough rates don’t always predict lots of sharing: “Porn isn’t viral,” Peretti said. (Those who click a link to see “Lindsay Lohan sideboob” probably aren’t going to then tweet or blog about it.) Peretti also finds that what people search for online is similarly kept private. But while Peretti was clear about what doesn’t create a meme, what does remained something of a mystery. Certainly, engaging with groups of “maniacs” (Ron Paul voters, Justin Bieber fans) or providing an outlet for playful narcissism (“Elf Yourself“) can build crowds — but that still leaves a lot of high-traffic Internet weirdness still unexplained.

As for the meme makers, few had an answer for why their media had taken off the way they did. Most of them were not the sort of SXSWi-attending microcelebrities who were in the audience; as Matthew Battles tweeted, “unlike most conferences, the audience are the experts & the panelists are outsiders. And *they* are the creators.” One guest pronounced “meme” incorrectly several times, and two other panelists were unfamiliar with the term “IRL.” Given the lighthearted spirit of the conference, ROFLers seemed to regard this less as ignorance than further proof of their authenticity. They weren’t “trying too hard” (the worst insult to a meme maker.)

Tracking the numbers

Sharing wacky Internet memes seems driven by some of the same desires that lead to sharing news or more serious media. The gut-wrenching video of Neda Agha-Soltan’s death and the footage of ex-marine David Motari throwing a puppy off a cliff spread on the Internet as easily as Keyboard Cat. News of a celebrity’s death — real or not — gets “shared” on Twitter, and many people first heard about the earthquake in Haiti or the bomb in Times Square via social networks.

There may be no crystal ball to predict “virality” in advance, but media organizations can control how an existing meme gets aggregated and filtered. Trending topics and to-the-minute analytics like Chartbeat are essential for tending to traffic spikes as they happen. Peretti explained The Huffington Post keeps constant watch over every post, moving items up and down the homepage as pageviews rise and fall — even rewriting headlines when they don’t appear to work.

It is unclear why one cat video finds a million viewers and another never reaches a thousand. And success may only come once: At ROFLcon, Brad O’Farrell and “Dancing Matt” even made a video together, and at around 8,000 views, it does not appear to be viral. But if your content does go viral, you’ll want to be able to laugh along with the crowd when the traffic spikes— especially if they are laughing at you. Otherwise, you’ll never live it down.

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