A fitting end to a day filled with talk of changing business models for the content industry, this final panel at the GigaOm/paidContent conference took a look at five startups to see how they are rethinking content delivery.
We heard from Prismatic co-founder and CTO Aria Haghighi earlier in the day during the algorithm and personalization panel. Prismatic's approach to content delivery is a custom built news feed, filled with topics interesting to you and suggestions based on those interests. Countering criticisms that he is creating filter bubbles, Haghighi claims that the suggestions made by the site provide interests that people did not know they had.
How does it do this? The crawling infrastructure at Prismatic's base sorts through social streams and open web for engaging content. The content is then analyzed, categorized and pushed to users based on stated interests and recommendations the platform makes."There's a lot of stuff out there that is not accessible via social media connections or publishers we happen to be aware of." Haghighi describes Prismatic as closer to a search engine than an RSS feed in that it isn't just an aggregator providing pre-approved content, but is making decisions on topics it thinks you might find interesting.
Prismatic is currently out as an iPhone app and on the web with plans to introduce support for iPad and Android coming later in the year. Haghighi also noted that the company plans to introduce feeds for items other than news, such as movies, apps and events.
A point that came up during the previous panel worth noting is the variety of sites being pulled into people's feeds. Haghighi noted the scope of the sources accessed by the crawler, pointing to an increase in discoverability for smaller, less well known sites.
One interesting development in the works is a publisher's platform, which uses the same process as the discovery platform, but overlaid on a publisher's site (e.g. the New York Times). This would give publishers the ability to provide custom built newspapers based on user's interests. The opportunities for more targeted marketing based on these freely volunteered interests are obvious.
The publisher platform should be launching soon with a limited number of partners.
The way people read news has changed. Gone are the Ozzie and Harriet visions of the two egg, bacon and toast breakfast eaten while perusing the front page at your kitchen table. People read news whenever they have time, and that often means on their phone.
Matt Galligan saw what publishers would do to feed this need -- shrinking down full stories for the screen by making the font teeny tiny -- and he knew there had to be a better way.
Galligan believes that the "best experiences are native" and that it was the simplicity of apps like Instagram that led to success. With this premise (and a belief that "traditional articles are too verbose," a statement that will make any fan of long form journalism cringe) Galligan launched Circa in 2012 as a native app for iOS.
What Circa does is combs news sources to find important stories and then pulls details out of stories, breaks them down into elements and delivers the main facts in easily digestible bites. Circa has a dedicated editorial team, so all facts and news choices are performed by humans. The site releases 40-50 news items a day and readers can find the source of the news item by tapping on the story.
The interesting feature on this app is the ability to follow stories. By choosing a topic of interest, the user will then receive pushes when a new news item comes out in the app. Is this "news, re-imagined"?
RebelMouse calls itself social publishing. Former Huff Post CTO Paul Berry launched the platform nine months ago to give people a simple tool to build dynamic sites. The site works by aggregating content from user's social media channels and updating the site in real-time, with options available to limit content published.
The page it produces is easily embeddable on other websites which can provide a quick facelift for an otherwise static home page. Non-social content can be added using a bookmarklet or by creating directly in site and the content can be rearranged by the user, freezing some elements to highlight them while allowing other sections to update regularly.
Paul Berry at GigaOm/paidContent
Berry says 50 publishers are on board with the company, using RebelMouse pages to engage readers and create a "network effect" on their sites. An example given is Fox.com which gives viewers of its show "The Following" the opportunity to post comments, Vines and photos of their reactions to the program as they are watching it. Fox curates the items that appear on the page and lets fans know when their comment appears on the website, turning what Berry calls "fans into uber fans."
The company is working on a charter program that uses sponsored content in a native way.
Spreecast calls itself a social video platform and anyone who is familiar with Google Hangouts will find the premise familiar. The web-based tool gives users the opportunity to connect with up to three other people for broadcast conversations, with unlimited viewers.
Where it differentiates itself is the combination of social elements to the video cast. While viewing a live conversation, social feeds run on the same page, allowing viewers to ask questions via Facebook and Twitter which post on the page of the video and giving the initiator of the broadcast the ability to add the user to the conversation with one click.
Television shows like American Idol are experimenting with Spreecasts, using it as an opportunity to have contestants interact directly with fans. The Wall Street Journal holds a Spreecast on a weekly basis. For companies looking to create more direct engagement with their users this appears to be an easy, intuitive way to invite customers to interact.
Opportunities for monetization are baked in, with the option for content creators to charge viewer (Spreecast does take a cut of this revenue) and in player advertising, with a video ad served inside the broadcast. A mobile app is coming soon.
Branch is another means to host and curate conversations, although in this case not in video. Co-founder Josh Miller came up with the idea while an intern for Senator Dianne Feinstein. Happy hour conversations with other interns were one sided and lacked context and nuance. He likens these conversations to what we see and hear on social media -- lots of sound but no meat.
The platform allows anyone to host a conversation on line, by picking a topic based on a news article or an idea, inviting people via Twitter, email or link to discuss the topic and then holding the conversation. This introduces multiple points of view on a subject, but cuts down on the noise by giving publishers the ability to limit those taking part in the conversation. The Branches can be embedded on any site or shared via links on social networks.
At four months old, the site is being used by some big names in the publishing world and some businesses are experimenting with it for customer relations and customer community building.
We've Seen the Future
And it looks personal and social.
Does Seymour Hersh need to be shaking in his boots? No, and that's not the point with these startups. The focus is on delivery and engagement with the news, but the content still clearly takes center stage.