A brief guide to all the new hot content things

Look, it’s too early to tell whether Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News, Google AMP, Medium’s refreshed platform and API, or any other of the myriad hot content things from the presumed major players will become a permanent hot content thing. That’s a given.

Only fire things.

(It’s so very easy to say “it’s too early to tell,” isn’t it?)

Technology companies with a stake in improving the user experience on mobile web (where “improvement” is primarily defined as load time for the moment, although article page load time is exponentially more important than homepage load time in the case of mobile web) are running at solutions, and some publishers clearly need the help, according to the data that’s been kicking around, to be quite honest.

If you sell telephones (lol telephony), or your native apps are the way many users navigate through what we still call “news,” broadly, this is in your interest. Faster load time means happier users, fewer who bail (“bounce” in the parlance of our times) while waiting for a story to show up, and it means more engagement and return visits and ad impressions, if that’s what you’re into. (That should be a thing you’re into, but probably not the only thing.)

So here’s a thing I whipped up. I promise I tried to make a neat little matrix infographic out of this, for quick reference, but there was so much text it just seemed silly. Everything is nuanced! So here’s a bunch of text about what these different hot content things are, why they might matter to your organization, who is working with them, what the revenue play (ugh, listen to me) looks like, etc.


FACEBOOK INSTANT ARTICLES

Where do we publish? Facebook iPhone app.

How do we publish? Fancy RSS feed.

What’s the big idea? Faster mobile web pages for the bazillion users who only view your articles via Facebook’s native phone apps.

How do we make money? You can run your own ads and keep 100% of the revenue, or you can use Facebook’s ad network to fill unsold inventory.

Who is doing it well?
The Washington Post pushed all their chips in (it’s hard to avoid this metaphor) after a relatively short pilot, syndicating all of their content to Instant Articles.

Where’s the map, y’all?

Why? Well, their mobile web pages have always been painfully slow in my anecdotal experience, and although they are claimed to be improving, it seems more like an ad network issue at this point.

Also, as a national news source with tons of political content, I would assume much of their Facebook mobile web traffic is from readers who are not local, and are not likely subscribers, even if they view multiple articles on a regular basis. (Yes, that’s a bold, uneducated assumption in a blog post, just like the old days. What year is it again?)

It’s not a perfect treatment for every story, though, to say the least.

Best case scenario? If your mobile web experience (read as: article page load time) has issues, this should increase loyalty and engagement, helping to grow your audience, get your content shared more often on Facebook, and generally make Facebook native app users feel good about tapping on links to your content. And that’s a good thing.

Counterpoint? You’re selling out your readers to Facebook, giving up on developing your own best possible mobile web experience, and ugh that doesn’t sound too terrible, honestly, you should probably try it out and watch the analytics closely to understand what your FB native app — mobile web article page users are really like, what they read, and whether there’s any hope of roping them into an email newsletter or digital subscription at the end of the day. Eh, but the Facebook docs on this only mention Comscore when it comes to analytics, which is… well… maybe there’s a dashboard or something. There should be. You need this data about your users.

APPLE NEWS

Where do we publish? Apple native app, iOS only

How do we publish? Fancy RSS feed.

What’s the big idea? Providing users with a clean and fast newsreading experience, away from the slow and ad-ridden halls of mobile web. Honestly, if you’ve been using Apple Music lately, you’ll get this. It’s a personalized news experience, but the personalization depends heavily on the user actively selecting sources and topics.

“Peanuts” tag does what it says on the label, I guess.

The taxonomy and/or any really deep passive personalization recommendation engine don’t seem too deep yet. An article about a peanut company executive gets tagged as “Peanuts” and when you click through, there are also stories about the upcoming movie featuring Charlie Brown and friends.

Apple Music is better at this. (Keep the ‘90s indie rock and hip-hop coming, Apple Music!)

How do we make money? 100% of the revenue on ads we sell ourselves; a 70% share when we use iAd, Apple’s ad network.

Who is doing it well? The New York Times has the most fully fleshed-out pages I’ve seen in Apple News so far, and are the only publisher I’ve seen running any advertising at all, even if it’s just been a house ad encouraging users to subscribe or download their apps. They’ve even included a version of their in-article email newsletter signup form, which is pretty slick of them, tbqh.

Best case scenario? There’s an opportunity here to make your content discoverable for users who aren’t as active on social media, or who might not be engaged enough with your brand to download a standalone native app, or to visit your website on purpose.

Counterpoint?
You’re giving personalization and curation capabilities and responsibilities away to a company who cares more about their users (rightfully?) than they care about your business model. Or anyone else’s.

GOOGLE AMP

Where do we publish? Publish an optimized article page for mobile web on your own platform, and it’s consumed by Google, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and others. Notably not FB? Notably not FB.

How do we publish? Publish your own pages using this fancy standard.

What’s the big idea? This has been an interesting one to watch people unwrap. AMP is not a platform, or another place to publish, but rather a set of standards. Publish your regular article page, but also make a few changes, strip out all the fancy interactions and javascript (and interactives? and embeds? and iframes? and… and… and…) and voila, a speedy mobile web article page can be yours. Users of Google and Google’s partners (so far) will see the stripped-down speedy version of your mobile web article page.

How do we make money? Ads are still in play, and Google doesn’t want to nudge anyone away from DFP, of course. They do make some broad statements about helping other ad networks meet better standards. Hard to imagine this works at all if garbage network ads that slow down the experience are still involved, but AMP should require loading them as late as possible to stay out of the way of the content.

Who is doing it well? No one is doing it just yet, but there should be better examples soon as publishers scramble to get their pages on board.

Best case scenario?
Maybe think about not publishing everything to AMP? Start with your most SEO-thirsty content. If all your mobile web traffic is coming through social, especially on rich stories with video, embeds, or interactives, this may not be the solution for you. But for the scores of rank-and-file text-and-photo stories you push through the CMS on a daily basis, this is worth trying out to optimize and maybe even boost SEO ahead of your competition.

Counterpoint? This is a set of training wheels for publishers that aren’t good at mobile web performance. If you’re already adept at building fast mobile pages that intelligently load embeds, interactives, rely on javascript, etc., then this may turn out to be a penalty, or at minimum a leveling of the playing field, allowing publishers who are bad at technology to get the basics right, while your more complicated but fast pages (election results, anyone?) need to be stripped of all of their interestingness to maintain their position in Search and News indexes. Maybe. idk.

MEDIUM

Where do we publish? Dual publishing-ish, I guess, via an API or via writing on Medium directly.

How do we publish?
Connect your CMS or feeds to the API or type it yourself right here on this big white page where I’m typing right now. (It’s nice in here.)

What’s the big idea? Medium is focused on providing writers and readers with a beautiful experience. Notice the specifics there: Medium has primarily been a platform for writing and reading, although sometimes they’ve been publishers, and “platishers” is hella fun to say out loud, albeit silly. Platisher, platisher, platisher.

Strong takes on commenting, notifications, and content discovery in their native apps are all pushing them ahead as a platform for reaching an influential audience with minimal effort. Their new API makes it easier for publishers to post content on Medium from their own content management system, though the partners at launch are limited for now, including WordPress and some others I’ve never heard about.

How do we make money? Native advertising.

Who is doing it well? Hard to tell because Medium makes everything look sort of equal and lovely, in a violently utilitarian way, but The Awl is probably a good central place to start.

Best case scenario? Pick some of your smartest, columniest, takiest content that tends to drive some conversation, and plug it in here from time to time to see what happens. Maybe it takes off and you pick up some new users out of it? The kind of users who share your content and bring more people to it. Early adopters. Influentials. Forgive me.

Counterpoint? You might annoy users by double-publishing, and hopefully they’re thinking about how to send the canonical URL back to the original, so you don’t cause yourself SEO troubles. That can’t be the real problem with this, but it’s all I can come up with right now.


(Not pictured: Snapchat Discover, which seems like loads of fun, honestly, and Twitter Moments, which is a hot content thing, sure, but it is literally tweets. And maybe Genius? As in Rap Genius? That could qualify, sort of. Not really timely right now, though.)

DISCLAIMER

Hey, so, this isn’t a work thing for me, opinions are mine, and I probably have plenty of colleagues working on hot things with these companies right now; I’m on a different team solving different problems. Don’t at me.

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