Hi, my name is Alex. I blog at rumproarious.com
203 stories
·
66 followers

What can we learn from Wildcard about news readers

1 Share

Wildcard entered the market recently after months of development. It's an audacious attempt at reimagining the mobile web through a new kind of browser. Given that content organizations are currently trying to define their mobile strategy. Wildard is an intresting case study for anyone who wants to release a content app.

If you haven't heard of Wildcard here's how The Next Web described it.

Wildcard is a free “browser” that presents the Web in an entirely new way. Instead of showing pages, Wildcard presents you with cards for everything, with search as the starting point for discovering content. The main screen shows you trending searches and interesting new content, or you’re able to search for any term you like to get started.

The Entrance

They are grafting a new design paradigm onto the mobile web by putting a lot of work into the problem of mobile web browsing. Khoi Vinh, who is the VP User Experience at Wildcard, recently blogged about their design work that went into the product (emphasis mine).

Cards are easy to recognize but somewhat difficult to define, and so we spent the first several months trying to work through a host of questions about how our vision of cards should behave

Vinh, if you didn't already know, was a Design Director at NYTimes.com, he was the head of design the for The NY Times website. He has also blogged at subtraction.com for years. Where he was a leading voice for the use of grids in web design, a staple for any web design today. Wildcard has had him working for months on a new design concept, the card.

Not only are they working hard on the design of their app, but they are deailing with some hairy technial issues as well. They recently ran a programming contest and they are probably indexing large swaths of content on the internet, again from Vinh:

Each card is a result of figuring out what’s feasible through data collection and indexing at scale—what common characteristics can be found in a vast majority of email newsletter sign-up forms, for instance, and how can we represent that in a consistent way that works with countless brands?

If all this wasn't enough to convince you that they are working on something big, they also have a large head count. From the same blog post:

Wildcard is roughly twenty-five people strong at the moment

Okay, so they have a great team, a great product, a great design, an attention to detail, and a good launch. So, how is Wildcard working out?

App Annie

Not so well.

What's up?

I want to step back here and say that it's easy to be cynical. It's easy to find these numbers, its easy to make fun of them, but it's just one aspect of a much larger picture. What I think is most helpfull here is to look at what they have done, and hopefully when you launch an app you will have a better understanding of how to make it a success. Also, they aren't done, this is just one lead bullet in their vast arsenal, I am sure.

So, what could have gone wrong?

First lets take a look at what they might be trying to do from 60,000 foot view. It looks like they are trying to build a mobile platform for content. The proposition to content makers probably goes a little liek this. You are a company that has good content, or even just a good website. You built it on wordpress. The mobile web now accounts for over half of yoru traffic? How are you handling that? Retooling from the ground up will be expensive. So, here comes Wildcard. Just add this extra meta data to your website and they can help you out. All you will need to do is direct your users to the Wildcard app.

I don't think we have seen the platform in it's entirety yet, this first app is an attempt to use content disovery as an entry point for the whole platform. But, that is all we have seen so far, so lets see what they are currently offering.

At first glance they are offering a content discovery and curation product. Combined with a mobile browser.

Content discovery and curation is a crowded marketplace. In this market your are competing against Flipboard, Zite, various RSS readers, CNN and other news apps, as well as Twitter and Facebook. That's just the apps store. In general you are also competing with Newsletters, news websites, Magazines, and TV. All of which compete for this exact kind of users attention.

When entering a crowded marketplace, you need to be differentiated, so lets see what the features are.

Wildcard's offerings:

  • Trending topics
  • Curation
  • Nicely designed app
  • New patterns and idioms to organize this information

So, what's different. Design, and the new kind of mobile browser. Both of which are good, I don't want to make it sound like those aren't achievments, because they are. The problem is that you have to look at these things in the lense of what a consumer wants, and I am not sure that those two things by themselves will be enough for an app to stand on. They might be better, but the classic VC question is, are you 10x better then the competiton? In this case they might just not be differentiated enough, and less then 10x better at everything else.

What can you learn from this?

The biggest problem you face when building a news app is give the user something they want. Sounds simple, but its not. This problem is larger the Wildcard as well. This mistake is common when developing apps of any kind.

The problem is ascerbated by the fact that most content orgs don't have the same person-power and money that Wildcard does to make chages. Wildcard has runway, they have time to figure it out, a small content outfit doesn't have the same amount of wiggle room. So, the biggest thing you can take away from this is; know your audience before you build.

I don't think anyone can really start at the mass market anymore. Unless you come with a huge budget, which most orgs don't have. Instead you need to find a small niche to enter through and then progressivley expand that.

If I had to make an app at this point, I would make something for 10,000 people. That doesn't mean it would always be for 10,000 people, but with a market of 10,000 people I would try and talk to at least 100 of them. Hopefully, I will make something so good that those 10,000 people won't be able to not pay attention.

Wildcard is an amazing feat, and they will figure it out, but everyone else who doesn't have the same resrouces needs to get creative about how they do mobile. Start small, talk to your users, and give your self the best chance to succeed.

Read the whole story
voidfiles
2172 days ago
reply
iPhone: 34.416367,-119.703964
Share this story
Delete

Building Editorial Dashboards with Open Source Tools

1 Share

I recently had the oportunitity to put together some dashboards for an editorial organization. Coming from a technical background I thought about using tools we use to do server monitoring, but they didn't quite work well for this new editorial role. So, we found some new tools (InfluxDB/Grafana) and we put something together in very little time.

The Process

When building a new site we strive for good visibility into our technical operations. This means measuring and monitoring different parts of the infrastructure to make sure everything is operating within normal parameters.

The net result is that we record hundreds of thousands of data points a day which are aggregated and then displayed on a number of dashboards that contain a real time summary of what's happening inside our infrastructure.

A graphite dashboard at etsy

A graphite dasbhoard at etsy

The Problem

Like our technical infrastruactue at a product level we wanted to keep track of everything from page views to how many stories were completed in a day. Turns out, system level monitoring and graphing tools don't work well for this problem. We needed to find another solution.

What we wanted to do was record a bunch of events and then order and aggregate them. For example, we have the page view event. Every time we record a page view event we'd also like to keep track of some metadata like the unique identity of the post that was viewed. We would also like to aggregate these events various ways so we can answer questions like: How many page views did we get in the last hour? Finally, we would like to build a dashboard with all of this information so that at a glance anyone in the organization can have an understanding of the process as a whole.

With these requirements in hand, we looked for a better solution.

The Solution

Really what we were looking for was something like Graphite, but Graphite wasn't going to work because it doesn't work well with large amounts of event types, some of which could be temporarily important, or large amounts of events that mostly store null data. It also doesn't have the ability to track metadata.

We set out to find something like Graphite, but with these few extra features. After looking at a few solutions, we ended up going with InfluxDB because we recognized, first and foremost, that it allowed us to quickly input data without a rigid schema. Changing on the fly, in the beginning, is paramount because you can't be sure about the kind of analysis that will be the most important. It can take time to figure out exactly what to record, and how to record it. InfluxDB is flexible enough that we can quickly change things on the fly without having to redo the whole stack.

With InfluxDB we got exactly what we hoped for and more. We record any event we want with whatever metadata we want, and we can even change what metadata we record over time.

We are able to quickly integrate the new data into our dashboard system. We use Grafana for all our dashboards. It's a great frontend for Graphite, but it also has support for InfluxDB. Inside the same frontend that we use to display our system level metrics we can display our application level metrics also, which is a huge win.

For now InfluxDB is our answer to the visibility question for everything above the app stack. It's a powerful tool in our effort to make sure that everyone has visibility into the parts of the system they need, when they need it.

Now you can too

It doesn't take much to get started either. Both InfluxDB, and Grafana are easy to install on your own hardware, but you can also get a hosted version. The company behind the open source tool InfluxDB also offers a hosted version, and they include Grafana. So, you can litterally get started without having to install any of these tools.

Read the whole story
voidfiles
2172 days ago
reply
iPhone: 34.416367,-119.703964
Share this story
Delete

App Store Review Skimming

1 Comment

Derek Zumsteg:

Part of the frustration is much deeper than that, and goes to a deeply scummy tactic Apple’s let proliferate. I’m going to call this skimming reviews: you pop up a request for a dialogue, but in a way that encourages only people who are going to leave good ones to do it. OkCupid’s app is the clearest example of this.

Read the whole story
voidfiles
2546 days ago
reply
Cool
iPhone: 34.416367,-119.703964
Share this story
Delete

Open Question: What's the impact of Reader's shutdown on traffic?

1 Share

Let’s say that there are only 1 million Google Reader users. In three days, that’s a million people who won’t be clicking on American Apparel ads. Which could directly effect the bottom line of websites that are entirely funded by ads, like blogs.

Is there anyway to know by how much though? What do you think the leading indicators might be?

I have enabled comments for this post so let me know if you have any answers.

On a side note, take a look at this alexa graph of blogger.com. I site like that has to be impacted by a Google Reader shutdown, right?

Blogger.com Alexa Traffic Graph http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/blogger.com

Read the whole story
voidfiles
2714 days ago
reply
iPhone: 34.416367,-119.703964
Share this story
Delete

The Rumproarious eBook

1 Share

I have been threatening to do this for a while, and now I have. I created a mini-ebook about the future of feed readers. I used many of the blog posts that I wrote over the last few weeks as the raw material for it, but I tried to craft a solid narrative for the ebook. Check it out:

Feeding Our Reading Habits

Also available in PDF and for the Kindle.

Read the whole story
voidfiles
2718 days ago
reply
iPhone: 34.416367,-119.703964
Share this story
Delete

What Would a Facebook Reader Mean?

1 Share

Last week multiple signs started to appear that point to the fact that Facebook might be prepping a news reader. While there has been discussion of the possibility few, if any, have tried to figure out what it would mean in general. Admittedly, there are few details, but it’s not that hard to extrapolate from past actions. You need to look at this from a couple different perspectives though. Why does this make sense for Facebook, Publishers, or the consumer? Finally, could it work?

First off, I think it makes sense for Facebook. If the newly public company had a list priorities growth and profits have to be at the top. With the street breathing down their neck they have entered new markets and cut out existing partners wherever there is even a little money to be made. One way to increase revenue is to increase page views, and thus ad views. So, the more they can get you to consume information on Facebook they better off they are.

It’s even a better idea when we look at mobile. The second birth of newsreaders is all due to mobile consumption. Reeder, Mr. Reader, Sunstroke all brought a second wind to a decaying product and extended it’s reach. If we throw Flibpoard, Google Currents, and other visual news readers the potential sherlocking gets even bigger. Think, what if Facebook has dedicated readers for the iPhone, and iPad, maybe Android? Built in social graph. The ability to cross promote the hell out of these apps. From Facebook’s perspective it keeps looking better.

This is where publishers come in. People already consume their content through the newsfeed via Facebook Pages, but this probably isn’t the best model for news content. Facebook might choose to create a new feed that consists only of news sources a user has chosen to subscribe to. They might even eliminate the blackbox algorithm on this feed and let users browse all the news they have subscribed too. They might even let users drill down to individual sources.

This makes sense to publishers for a couple of reasons. First, many news publishers already have RSS feeds of some kind, so it would be a very easy technical transition. Second, Facebook Pages are an okay way of doing engagement on Facebook, but I am sure that publishers would rather have a direct line to it’s users. This might loosen the path. Finally, Anyone who is paying attention to their subscriber base on Google Reader will realize that they are about to loose a giant slice of readers. If Facebook is actually proposing something close to a Google Reader replacement this might be an opportunity to salvage those readers.

Lets look at an example like Deadspin. They have 115k likes on their Facebook page. Which gives them a chance at reaching those subscribers every time they publish something to that page. Now we look at how many people subscribe to Deadspin on Google Reader; 221k.

Deadspin on Google Reader

Not only do they have almost twice the readers on Google Reader, each story is probably read more often then it is on Facebook.

Of course anything Facebook would do would have to include a bunch of big brand, upscale publishers, but I think its important to realize that even us little guys are looking at loosing a giant portion of readers.Even Marshall Kirkpatrick had this to say about a Facebook News Reader:

“Sure would be great for all the blog publishers of the world to gain access to even more readers on the FB platform!” — Kirkpatrick

Rumproarious RSS Readership

If smaller publishers are anything like my self. We are talking about losing 99% of our readers1. So, the whole spectrum of publishers could benefit from something like a Facebook News Reader that bootstraps off a closing Google Reader.

So, there are clear reasons why Facebook and Publishers would love this, what about consumers?

I have no idea. Facebook has shown that they can make good apps (Messanger) and they can get people to try new apps (Poke), even if they can get people to keep using them. There is no lack of news reading apps so, sure, I do think that if this is as broad reaching as app + web + feeds users could like it.

Sounds good, right? Well…

Look, whatever Facebook is it’s not a platform. This is 100% publishers beware. Letting Facebook hold the keys to your audience doesn’t seem like a great idea, but publishers might not have an option at this point. Consumers might get a nice product, but is this just another countdown to an eventual shutdown?

Whatever it is we will know more on the 20th.

  1. Even since I wrote about this when Google Announced the closure of Google Reader non-Reader feed readers have only increased by 1, or 2%.

Read the whole story
voidfiles
2726 days ago
reply
iPhone: 34.416367,-119.703964
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories