What we’re reading this week — January 22 2016

These are the key things The Times Digital Development team are thinking about this week. Questions and queries to Matthew TK Taylor

From peach.cool

The age of the app is over, say hello to a transactional internet

The tech world went crazy this week for Peach, a new startup from the sunny west coast of America which promised to be the hip new thing for the young ones. Don’t worry, I don’t have any friends on it either.

Anyway, don’t bother signing up. Social media is over (and Peach is especially over). We’re in a messaging world now. Wondered why Facebook has been pushing ‘Messenger’ on to your phones as a separate app for the last few years? This is why.

Business Insider’s thinktank division, BI Intelligence, have come out with a report that the top 4 messaging apps (QQ & WeChat owned by TenCent and Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp) have more global monthly active users (MAU, a common metric) than the top 4 social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, QZone and Google Plus). Messaging could very well be, as Sam Lessin, former VP of Product at Facebook writes on The Information, the next big iteration of the internet (the last one being apps). Facebook Messenger recently integrated several ‘apps’ inside it, such as Uber (you can now hail a cab with a text to Facebook), and it’s infamous ‘Facebook M’, a personal assistant that can automatically book you flights, order you lunch, get you a restaurant reservation and many more. WhatsApp recently dropped its 99c/year subscription fee (which many users never saw) with the promise of instead providing value (to the user and to Facebook) via partnering with businesses to provide the same kind of transactional service you might get in-person, in the app.

Of course when we talk about the west this is very new to all of us. China is lightyears ahead. TenCent, the $200 billion Facebook/Google of China, has been innovating in this area for a long time to keep users inside their infrastructure. You can do everything inside WeChat: find what movies are on near you, book a movie, choose a seat; find a clinic, choose a doctor, book an appointment; find a babysitter, book them, see them upload a photo of your child. China, with its recent development, is extremely mobile-first. Ironically their implementations don’t utilise messaging (for other reasons that won’t fit here but are linguistic), but it doesn’t matter.

Facebook, the biggest social player and arguably one of the best advertisers in the world, make a annual average revenue per user (ARPU) of just ~$9. WeChat makes $7. That’s pretty good. If Facebook gets this right it could be a very lucrative route to more revenue.

Anyway, that’s my primer, there’ll be a lot more on this over the next year.


Dead Tree Media is dying

There’s not much life left in American newspapers. In this short piece from Peter Tofel, president of ProPublica, he notes how the decline in print circulation seems to be even more severe than thought previously. In the McKinsey report from last year (warning, that’s a huge PDF), the consulting company decreed that (on page 25 if you’re reading along):

“We believe that many of the people likely to abandon print newspapers and print consumer magazines have already done so. At the same time, there are still millions of households and individuals with broadband access who continue to read newspapers and consumer magazines in print. We believe most of this core audience — households that have retained their print subscriptions despite having access to broadband — will continue to do so for now, effectively putting a floor on the print markets.”

Aha, so the only threat is now our readers dying off? Wrong, says Tofel, whose figures represent the core audience of newspapers actually changing their habits. If this is the case, and the supposedly loyal print readers turn to digital or other means faster than anticipated, the market could still be in for many more violent swings to come.


  • Quartz, the business news site from The Atlantic, is going to launch an app. In an interview with Nieman Lab, publisher Jay Lauf says they have focused on a mobile-first experience for a global audience that’s integrated with advertising, not with it plastered on top.
  • Facebook have launched ‘Sports Stadium’, a virtual stand for fans to watch the game on their second screen (read: phone). Follow scores, play by play commentary and posts from your friends in one stream that launches for American Football today, with more sports to come.
  • Google AMP project (accelerated mobile pages) has suppose for paywalls. Google, being the host of articles that are loaded from an AMP-enabled website, have announced how they will implement subscription services inside their new fast-loading HTML offshoot. There’s a big shift for it in the near future too, next month AMP articles will start appearing in Google search results.

That’s all for this week, thanks for reading