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#Podcast: How news outlets offer personalisation on digital platforms

August 30th, 2013 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Podcast

In efforts to grow engagement on digital platforms and give some organisation to the wealth of information online, many news outlets offer personalisation features, delivering relevant content to individual users.

This can be based on a number of different factors, such as their location, their interests and in some cases their social media connections.

In this week’s podcast we look at a number of different approaches in the news industry to personalisation: from how publisher service Near You Now aims to surface locally-relevant content to how the Financial Times’s web app recommends content based on browser history. We also look at the role personalisation plays in interactive content and the selection of content on news reader apps.

We also speak to City University London professor Steve Schifferes about his report from last year on personalisation, which he co-authored with Dr Neil Thurman.

The podcast hears from:

  • Bede McCarthy, group product manager for content, Financial Times
  • Professor Steve Schifferes, director of Financial Journalism MA, City University London
  • Sean Clarke, head of interactives, the Guardian
  • Anthony Sheehan, founder, Near You Now, Xylitic
  • Martin Stoddart, vice president of business development, Zite

You can hear future podcasts by signing up to the iTunes podcast feed.

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#Podcast – A look at the new Windows 8 apps from the New York Times, Financial Times and other outlets

October 26th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted by in Mobile, Podcast

Image by Kiwi Flickr on Flickr. Creative commons licence. Some rights reserved.

Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system launched last night and today the Windows Store opened for business.

This podcast looks at three different news publishers that have today launched apps in the Windows Store.

Sarah Marshall, technology editor, speaks to:

  • Alexandra Hardiman, director, mobile products, New York Times
  • Chris Smith, product manager, Financial Times
  • Chris Took, sales director, PageSuite, the company behind the app technology for the Daily and Sunday Express, Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday, OK! Magazine, Star Magazine and New! Magazine

You can hear future podcasts by signing up to the iTunes podcast feed.

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#MarketBriefing: How the FT is measuring its shift to mobile

Multichannel analytics is key for the Financial Times, which is well known as a leader in understanding its audience and using the data to increase revenues.

The FT, which has 4.5 million registered users of its digital offering and 285,000 paying digital subscribers, has a team of 30 people focusing on web analytics, data and digital marketing for the title.

The digital subscriber base grew by 29 per cent last year, demonstrating how understanding the audience pays off.

Why audience analytics is key

Tom Betts, head of web anaytics as the FT, told today’s ‘audience revenue tools for online publishers’ conference how it has grown its subscriber base and used data to help “fuel” their shift to mobile.

One of the things the FT has been doing for the past two or three years, Betts said, is personalising the communications with readers based on the types of editorial content they are are interested in.

The FT looks at customer DNA, at how much of each type of content, such as “markets”, “world”, “personal finance”, they read.

The FT can then tailor newsletters “to personalise the experience that people have with us”, Betts explained.

How mobile alters the digital landscape

But simply looking at digital analytics is not enough. Platform-specific data can give a better picture of the individual.

For example, Betts explained how if a reader has not read “weekend” or “personal finance” content online, it might be that they read it on a tablet or mobile when they are at home.

Mobile is altering the way our customers read our content.

And this information can turn into revenue. At least 20 per cent of new FT subscriptions comes from behaviour-driven data marketing, Betts said.

He also said it is essential to understand whether if people are engaging across platforms.

“Are the platforms generating a new audience or are we just moving the audience from one platform to another?” Betts asks the data, as that will dictate how much it is worth investing in digital offerings for different devices.

The FT famously created a web app in order to have a direct relationship with the customer, which it was not able to do with its previous iOS native iPad app.

As well as providing data from the web app and bypassing Apple’s 30 per cent levy, the technology behind the app also makes “deployment easier”, Betts said.

“HTML5 makes deployment easier” as the “core remains the same with different wrap-arounds” overlaid for the Android and Windows 8 native apps.

And looking at the data demonstrating when the various devices are used is also beneficial.

Betts demonstrated with a graph to show the main smartphone and tablet usage peaks at breakfast, with another rise in the evening.

Existing subscribers are not just reading during the business day.

They therefore get better value of their subscriptions and less likely to cancel.

Update: This post initially quoted Tom Betts as saying “everything we’ve done that has been successful at the FT has been related to data”. The FT would like to clarify that Betts was referring to the fact that “the intelligent use of data has been a significant driver of our commercial success”.

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#jpod – How to engage a subscriber community: Lessons from the Times and Financial Times

Image by Dreamer, via Wikimedia Commons

Community management is a key part of an online news outlet’s operation, and in this week’s podcast we speak to two people at the heart of community operations at the Times and Financial Times, to offer a unique insight into engagement strategies for subscriber communities.

Ben Whitelaw, communities editor at the Times and Rebecca Heptinstall, community manager at the Financial Times, discuss how subscribers use comment facilities to interact with journalists, the ways to recognise the value of subscriber through greater interaction and involvement in feedback and what community engagement really means both on the news website and on social media platforms.

For more on the topic of community engagement, this previous podcast looks in more detail at managing reader comments and here’s a feature on how the New York Times is using social media for “deeper” engagement.

And here is a link to the FT’s LinkedIn Readers’ Group referred to by Rebecca in this week’s podcast.

You can hear future podcasts by signing up to the iTunes podcast feed.

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#followjourn – @benfenton Ben Fenton/head of ‘live news desk’

March 23rd, 2012 | No Comments | Posted by in Recommended journalists

Who? Ben Fenton

Where? Ben was the Financial Times’ media correspondent and now heads up its new “live news desk”

Twitter? @benfenton

Just as we like to supply you with fresh and innovative tips, we are recommending journalists to follow online too. Recommended journalists can be from any sector of the industry: please send suggestions (you can nominate yourself) to Rachel at; or to @journalismnews.

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#ftmedia12: FT content revenues could overtake advertising in 2012

March 7th, 2012 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Advertising, Business, Journalism

Image copyright Chris Young/PA

This year “could well be” the first year in its history that content revenues, including print and digital, overtake advertising revenues at the Financial Times, its chief executive, John Ridding, told the news organisation’s Digital Media Conference today.

The latest figures show content revenues for the FT accounted for 41 per cent in 2011, while advertising revenues accounted for the majority.

Speaking on a panel debating “the future of digital journalism and news”, Ridding said the FT’s relationship with its readers has helped to “sustain” quality journalism.

Having that understanding about what readers want is very helpful in continuing to improve the quality of journalism we provide.

We are confident in the business model and confident it will not just sustain quality journalism but enable us to further build quality journalism.

The site currently offers free registration which gives users access to eight articles a month, after which they would need to pay a subscription to access further content.

During the panel Ridding also spoke about mobile, which he said has been “a complete game-changer” for the FT.

One of my issues to start with was will the kind of content we do work on mobile? The answer is yes.

He added that one question to consider is whether there are ways publishers can reach out to “large continental economies” via mobile and tablet devices, such as by using “incentives … to stimulate that demand”.

Last month the FT’s parent company Pearson reported in its end-of-year results that FT Group revenues increased by six per cent to £427m in 2011.

Digital subscriptions to the FT were said to be up 29 per cent year-on-year to 267,000 and registered users on had risen by 33 per cent.

Last week paidContent reported that “in the US, to where its online chief recently relocated, digital subscriptions have now overtaken print subscriptions”.

The interview with Riddings also revealed that content revenues are expected to overtake ad revenue in 2012.

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Newspapers and PCC deny Baroness Buscombe claims

February 7th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted by in Journalism

Three newspaper publishers have denied a claim by Baroness Buscombe (pictured) that they threatened to quit the organisation because of negative adjudication recently.

Responding to Robert Jay QC at the Leveson inquiry today, who said: “I think a number of editors threatened to leave the PCC”, Buscombe replied: “Yes, the FT, the Guardian, the Mirror.”

Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger tweeted:

The Mirror said:

The Financial Times added:

The PCC said: “Baroness Buscombe was giving a personal recollection of her conversations and experiences whilst at the PCC, during her evidence at the Leveson Inquiry this morning. The PCC has not received any formal proposals from these publishers to withdraw from the system in recent years.”

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FT web app has been used 1m times

November 21st, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Mobile, Traffic

The Financial Times is reporting that its web app has clocked up one million hits since it was launched in June.

Around 45 per cent of users have bookmarked the FT web app to a iPhone or iPad, replicating a native app experience by providing an app icon on the device’s home screen.

The app, which is free to download but through which content is limited due to a cross-platform part paywall, saw 150,000 uses in the first 10 days; five months on it has achieved one million clicks on the url.

The web app, built with HTML5 technology, has two advantages for the FT over its previous native iPhone and iPad apps: it avoids the FT paying Apple a 30 per cent cut, the charge for any music, app or book publisher selling through its store, and the FT gets to access and own its audience data.

In a post on its blog the FT said the web app has “significantly boosted mobile and tablet traffic”. now sees 20 per cent of total page views and 15 per cent of new B2C subscriptions each week coming directly from mobile and tablet devices. These readers are also more engaged, with users who register on mobiles and tablets 2.5 times more likely to subscribe, as well as being more active in giving feedback.

The FT has also produced an infographic.

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Web apps v native apps v mobile sites: a guide

In two year’s time mobile phones will overtake computers as the most popular device for web browsing, John Barnes, managing director of digital and tech at Incisive Media, told delegates at the Mobile Media Strategies day.

Users expect a seamless experience whether they are accessing websites on a Android device, a BlackBerry, iPhone, tablet, laptop or desktop.

It is therefore essential that news sites understand the future of mobile and work out whether to spend money developing a range of native apps: for iPhone, iPad and Android, for example; a web-based app such as the much-discussed web app launched by the Financial Times less than a fortnight ago; spend time building an or opt for a mobile-friendly site.

Bear in mind the following facts:

  • The smartphone market is 25 per cent of the mobile market in the UK;
  • The UK is Europe’s leading market for smartphones;
  • There are 18 million smartphones in the UK. By 2015 there will be 42.9 million;
  • In 2015 there will be more Android smartphones in Europe than the total number of smartphones in Europe today;
  • Apple has a 82.5 per cent market share of apps;
  • Android’s Market will take a increased market share and dominate the market;
  • BlackBerry will (probably) switch to Android within 18 months, according to Dominic Jacquesson who has written a report on mobile. Indeed the BlackBerry PlayBook, a small tablet, which went on sale this week, can display some Android apps.

And consider your traffic drivers: with social media playing an increasingly important role in directing readers to stories – and with one in every six minutes online spent on social media sites in the US – it is worth noting the use of Facebook is already 40 per cent mobile with 250 million users worldwide, according to Jacquesson. Indeed, Facebook appears to be building an HTML5 web-based app to reach even more people, according to this article posted on TechCrunch.

What is clear from all of the facts is that you need to do something.

“I honestly cannot believe there are still people in publishing who don’t at least have some way of looking at their content on a mobile device that doesn’t mean looking at the full site itself,” said Ilicco Elia, who until last week worked for Reuters, told

There is no one size fits all, according to Mark Kirby, lead developer for Ribot, an award-winning mobile specialist, so his first piece of advice is do your homework.

If your title is B2B then most of your readers will probably be using a BlackBerry device. If you produce an art magazine, your audience is most likely to be one with iPhones and iPads. Do your research and don’t expect just because your readers have, say, Nokia handsets, that they download apps.

If you already have a mobile site you will be able to work out which devices your readers have by using data from Google Analytics and Webtrends.

“Have a look at your site on all handsets used by your audience, test it out and get those less familiar with your site to see how the experience feels for them,” advises Kirby. “Don’t just spend one minute testing on each device, spend at least 10,” he said.

And that experience and journey is very important. “It’s not about what technology can do, it’s about how technology can make you feel,” Elia said at the conference organised by the Media Briefing.

One you have your data some of the results may surprise you. You may find people are reading lengthy articles on a mobile. Just because people are using a mobile for web browsing, do not assume they are on the move and in a hurry. “Some mobile web-browsing takes place at home, and in a study of users of a mobile app, most were using that at home,” Kirby explained.

Mobile sites

The most important thing to remember is “don’t break the web”, which is something of a mantra for Kirby. Social media is likely to be a big traffic driver for you and a link from Twitter, Facebook or email should send a viewer directly to a story and not to your home page.

Kirby also stresses the importance of ensuring all content is on every version of your site and recommends having a button on the home page and each article page to allow users to flip between sites. Some mobile users may want to see the full desktop view, readers with large screens may want to see the mobile version.

He favours a single column view for mobile and spending time thinking about the user’s journey through your site.

There are two ways of creating a mobile site, Kirby explained. You can either opt for a “responsive website”, which uses the same HTML as your main site and a system of different HTML templates to display different sets of data. “You’re simply using CSS Media Queries to reshape it on various different size screens, mobile being one of those,” he said.

The second option is to use device detection “to serve up a different template, a different HTML, to mobile devices”, he explained.

“There are pros and cons of each,” he said. “The second option is less flexible but the first has more pitfalls.”

Where media analyst Elia is a fan of m.sites, which use a different URL beginning with ‘m.’, Kirby feels they are unnecessary. “I can’t really think of any argument for an,” he said.

For those on a low budget Elia suggests taking a look at Instapaper and Readability and using one of them to format pages and suggests Mippin, which can take RSS feeds from your site and turn them into a mobile site or app.

Web apps

Web apps are hosted on a URL and are either made for a specific device or are hybrid apps made to be viewed on any device. The new FT app is currently available for the iPad and iPhone but built with the Android in mind and indeed based on the FT’s Android app.

“The hybrid is built by using HTML technology and a solution such as Phone Gap to package it. It’s much like a native app and some people wouldn’t realise it wasn’t. And then the code can be reused across multiple platforms: the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and so on,” Kirby explained.

A web app may sound like a perfect solution to a problem in that you pay for the development of one app, rather than two or three, and an in-house developer team may well have the skills to build it. The other big advantage for sites which charge a subscription is that a web-based app bypasses the App Store, so publishers avoid paying Apple a 30 per cent cut for selling their content.

As Elia said: “Most news sites use pretty simple text, pictures and video, so you don’t necessarily tax a device as much as a 3D game would, for example, so a HTML5 web-based app is perfectly acceptable and you will be able to get as much as the wow factor as you need.”

However, readers will need to know that your app exists as they will not find it by searching in the App Store and, unless you are a major player such as the FT so able to generate sufficient buzz to result in 100,000 hits in the first week, you could struggle to get people using it.

The user experience may not be as good as with a native app, although the FT is reporting initial feedback has been good with many users finding the web-based app experience better than the native. If you have an iPad it’s worth testing the FT’s native app against its web-based one.

Kirby said for him (using an iPad 1) the web-based app seemed sluggish. “I have experienced these problems myself when building hybrid apps. It does seem perhaps they’re not there yet but the platforms will improve,” he said.

Native apps

There are two points worth remembering. Firstly “an app should be the answer to a question and not the question itself,” according to Kirby. It needs to be a solution to a problem rather than simply built for the sake of having an app.

Barnes offers a suggestion of how to test your need for one. “Write the press release on the launch of an app before you build it. You’ll often realise it’s a crapp – or a crap app,” he said.

Secondly, there is no need to hurry. “You don’t have to be first when it comes to apps,” Elia said, suggesting it was better to spend more time researching and developing a better app.

And a good app will cost you. Expect to pay a minimum of £20,000 per app as decent developers charge around £1,000 a day and it is likely to be at least two month’s work, Kirby said, and suggested an app is more likely to be in the region of £100,000 to £200,000.

Kirby also pointed out that iPhone, Android and BlackBerry users all have different expectations and expect a certain design. Android readers expect an app that looks like an Android app, iPhone users expect a familiar style, feel and layout too. However, “you need a branded experience across platforms”, Elia said.

The iPad offers “big opportunities for publishers”, Staffan Eckholm, from Bonnier’s Moving Media+ said last week.

But Kirby warns against trying to do too much. For him it is all about user experience – or UI – and he feels GQ’s iPad app is “confusing and stressful”, due to being so complicated it gives instructions on how to use it.

He points those considering a magazine iPad app in the direction of PixMax and to Zinio, an even better option in his opinion, which includes added functionality like links and hyperlinks within the contents pages of its products.

For several publishers initially the number of people using native apps is encouraging. This month the Guardian has reported 400,000 global downloads of its iPhone app, with more than 67,000 paying subscribers; the Economist has reported two million downloads of the iPad and iPhone app with 650,000 regular readers, most of them paying; the Times has not released app stats but in March said it had 79,000 paying digital subscribers; and although the Telegraph has not revealed figures it has said it is “hugely encouraged” by the number of people willing to pay to read news.

So it is worth remembering that it is barely a year since the first iPad hit shops in the UK and that the landscape for news consumption is constantly evolving.

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#mobilemedia11: FT web-based iPad and iPhone app a ‘wake-up call’ to publishers

The release of the Financial Times’ web-based HTML5  app has provided “a big wake up call” to publishers , said Andrew Grill, keynote speaker at the today’s Mobile Media Strategies day.

Earlier this month the FT released an HTML5-based iPad and iPhone app which circumvents the 30 per cent charges levied on app sales by Apple by allowing users to update content through the FT website and thus allowing the newspaper to take the full revenue.

The Economist is “watching closely” and Tom Standage, digital editor of the title, signalled it may follow suit.

“HTML5 will be the answer to all of our problems; even if it’s not yet,” predicted Ilicco Elia, a mobile product expert, who until yesterday worked for Reuters and is yet to announce where he will be working next.

Elia warned that “you can’t do everything in HTML5″ and said it was a sensible option for the FT to launch in HTML5 compared with an unknown title. “It’s okay of you’re the FT because people know the brand in will go in search of it,” he explained.

Many publishers are now looking at the HTML5 hybrid: not a pure app, not a pure browser experience, said John Barnes, managing director digital strategy and development at Incisive Media, which works with B2B publishers. He explained the dilemma between developing apps when working with very different titles.

Barnes gave the example of two titles he works with: Legal Week, where 10.5 per cent of web visits are mobile, most of them accessing the site via a BlackBerry device. He urged the audience to compare this with Photography magazine which is mostly read on the iPad and iPhone.

During a session on how to make money with mobile media, Paul Lynette, head of mobile advertising at EMEA, Microsoft Advertising, showed the potential for in app ads using HTML5.

Thinking of developing an app, an mobile site or a HTML5 hybrid?

Considering the advantages of mobile editions (m.editions) versus apps versus the HTML5 hybrid, Barnes said the advantage of m.editions is they are browser-based and, therefore, provide full integration with a CMS, have the same domain name, integration with analytics and web trends.

And for news sites without an m.edition Elia gave a word of warning to the delegates of the event: “You should not be here if you don’t have an m.edition, you should be in the office coding.”

He warned there is “not a lot of margin in mobile” but it should be central to any online strategy.

Elia warned of the importance of listening to your audience. “You don’t have to be first when it comes to apps,” he said and suggesting it was better to spend more time developing a better app.

Barnes had a different suggestion to those thinking of creating an app: “Write the press release on the launch of an app before you build it. You’ll often realise it’s a crapp (crap app),” he said.

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