Hot off the press, here’s a new Q&A about Felix from the very excellent What’s New in Publishing.

In it you’ll find rambles compelling comment from me on the challenges that publishers are faced with today – including thoughts on the devils of social media and the bleeding hell of traffic leakage.

Here’s a snippet:

We see the problem [of traffic leakage] growing rapidly. It’s fuelled by many publishers themselves. Standard tactics involve pumping large volumes of content onto 3rd party platforms in return for short-term traffic. This activity has become hardwired into editorial newsrooms via page-level metrics that create a Groundhog Day effect: each day the slate gets wiped and the race is on to generate 500k page views for a piece of content. This does little for their longer-term brand value, loyalty and audience development.

One thing I’m rather keen on right now is the concept of a page format: you know, the stuff that holds a piece of content on a phone, tablet or computer. I’m fairly sure that many publisher headaches are caused by a standard creative format that is, broadly speaking, oblong and limited by the number of words, images and video that it contains.

On a standard page there’s a fixed number of spots for advertising, sidebars, promos, etc, and CPM works on the basis of charging advertisers a given rate for having people look at it.  Right now, this is a bit of a revenue squeeze when people are spending less time on a publisher’s page in favour of more time on other apps and services.

Not all content is bound by the same parameters of a standard page. Faceb0rg, for example: the stream of advertising user experience that never ends. (Google too, for some of its services, now that it has pinched the idea of an ‘infinite scroll’ – ie: ‘load more’ results – from other search engines like Duck Duck Go.)

Of course, neither of these platforms relies on people sitting at desks hammering content into a Soviet-era CMS to generate content, but it strikes me that the limitations of a standard page ought to be relatively simple to fix. If we were to provide audiences with different UIs for different content experiences, then this will yield new outlets for display advertising and other revenue-generating click paths.

On this topic, here’s a great post by Andreessen Horowitz’s Ben Evans. It’s called ‘The Death of the Newsfeed.’

Ben talks about the ins and outs, and ups and downs of social newsfeed design and the processing overload now placed on users. (Too many connections between people and topics lead to too much irrelevant content, which in turn leads to lower levels of engagement.)

He sums things up nicely in this tweet:

So, flat out copying a social newsfeed probably isn’t the route to go for publishers.

Ben’s post looks at Google for contrast. Google always gives us utility and relevance because it’s always based on our intent (our search queries). Facebook doesn’t work this way, and once the majority of its newsfeed becomes irrelevant, that’s when the problems begin.

Who knows what Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm is up to? As far as I can see it’s main reason for existence is an opaque means to serve more ads to users. Shifting its focus to help regain content relevancy is a tough nut to crack. How do you go from a massive random sample of content based on a buffet of signifiers like recency, degrees of separation and topic affinity to an experience that delivers uniform value to everyone and their dog?

In any case, it’s time publishers started to think more deeply about their content UIs and the tools that fuel them. And that’s what Felix’s solutions are all about.

For more on the subject, see here.

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