Posts about feeds

Content in the social Mode

Screenshot 2015-05-04 at 3.12.06 PM

One underestimates Samir Arora at one’s peril.

Under most everyone’s radar, he built Glam — since rechristened Mode Media — as the seventh largest web property by audience, with 155 monthly unique users in the U.S. and 406 million worldwide. He did that by building a network. That’s what brought us together: our belief in the power of networks. (Disclosure: For a time, I advised Glam.)

Then Arora started experimenting with other forms of media. He opened Foodie as a curation tool gathering food photos with links to recipes and he found out how much traffic he could drive to content creators. At the same time, the company bought Marc Andreessen’s community platform, Ning, and used it to build tools for content creators.

And now he has unveiled a rebuilt Mode atop Ning. With it he is reversing the direction taken by most other media. Panicked by Facebook, Twitter, and the explosion of social, media companies have tried to add social to content (“Share me!”) or take their content to social platforms (e.g., Buzzfeed gloms onto Facebook like an oxpecker on a rhino and now Facebook the spider tempts news companies to publish their content in its web). Mode is going the other way: It built a social platform and is adding content to it.

The new Mode launched with 100,000 pieces of content, with a heavy emphasis on video, from its own creators and sites it’s working with. It has an easy tool to enable curators to gather and link to content from around the web. Those are human curators, not algorithms. It has content creation tools, including a video player. Those collections of content and recommendations will be embeddable (though as I write this, that function isn’t working yet for me). Altogether, Arora says Mode has 6,000 sites in its ad network, 4,000 of its own content creators, and 4,000 sites where it can distribute its feeds.

As is often the case with Arora’s inventions, it takes me a few days to understand his insight. With this relaunch, what I see is that Arora envisions the page-based web shifting to a stream-based web.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately and will probably write more about streams-v-pages soon. But in a nutshell, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and so many other social services and thanks also to the form factor of mobile, more and more of our attention is being taken up by streams rather than pages. We in media have little choice but to endeavor to plop our content into others’ streams so it will get attention. Thus the negotiations with Facebook, Snapchat, et al.

Arora has built an infrastructure to create streams for content. At the Newfronts advertising showcase, he bragged that he could take a YouTube creator’s video and program it into all the streams he controls and bring it one million viewers. Snap.

He also sees that the way to build loyalty and thus audience and usage is to enable people to follow the creators and curators they like. That is the architecture that made social media — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, et al — scale. So he has build following into Mode.

Mode’s challenge remains that you probably have never heard of it. It has not been a brand, it has been a network and then it became a platform. Now it needs to develop a media and social brand. And to do that, it is bringing inside all its sub-brands — Glam, Brash, Foodie, Bliss, Tend — under the new Mode. But Mode also has to expand its offerings from its mostly fluffly Glam roots — lots of fashion and lifestyle — and add more business, tech, news, and hard information. That’s what Arora says he will do, growing from 10,000 affiliated content creators to 100,000 — who are paid — and building more content brands. And, of course, he can offer his platform and skills to advertisers, helping them create and distribute — just as Buzzfeed sells its skills rather than merely its space.

At the DLD conference in Munich in January, I interviewed Arora and he offered a clear vision for where media success will lie, finding scale and value in building platforms — rather than just content — that in turn gather distribution at no cost through social connections. He put this complex slide on the screen (which I explain in this post):


At the Newfronts presentations a week ago, he simplified that view of the industry this way:

Screenshot 2015-05-04 at 8.44.27 AM

Note that to the left are the content creators. They can use the boxes to the right to distribute and exploit their work. Mode is positioning itself as a social discovery platform for professional content. I can’t know whether it will work. But then, I didn’t know that blogs and Twitter would work. I’ve learned not to underestimate that which I don’t yet fully understand.

Feed me

I’ve been thinking what Gary Vaynerchuk says: Facebook is too slow. Twitter has spoiled me. I want a constant feed of stuff and Facebook is a trickle. It wouldn’t be at all hard to fix. Facebook should let me both increase the flow of information about my friends and to include external feeds in it (Facebook should have done Friendfeed).

I’ve been talking with lots of news organizations about following the feed model. Sometimes, I may want a packaged, prioritized presentation of news. But mostly, to quote Dave Winer, I want a river of news. Facebook did a brilliant job bringing an algorithmic presentation of a feed but now it’s falling behind in feed wars. They’d better catch up fast.

: Meanwhile, here’s ReadWriteWeb summing up various fears about feed OD and how to cure it.


My Guardian column this week is a tribute to Twitter. Since I haven’t written about that much in the blog, here’s the full text:

When I first used the microblogging platform Twitter – which enables users to publish 140-character-long messages via the web and mobile phones – I thought it was silly. Or rather, the uses to which it was being put were silly: people announcing that they’d just woken up or what they’d had for breakfast. I couldn’t have cared less. But then I should confess that when I first used blogs and podcasts, I didn’t fully comprehend their impact either. So, when my son and webmaster told me I should take another stab at Twitter, I did. And I now see it is an important evolutionary step in the rise of blogging.

I just Twittered this: “I’m writing a column about Twitter and Twittering that.” Not everybody on Twitter saw that update on my life, only those people who care to follow me on the site. That is a critical characteristic of Twitter: it’s selective, in that users choose whether to follow me. And it’s social, in that I choose whom to follow. So we’re not publishing to the big, wide world. We’re talking with our friends and acquaintances.

But at the same time, I can choose to automatically feed my tweet – as an individual Twitter message is called – on to my Facebook profile and also on to my blog page, where more friends can see what I’m up to. That’s another key attribute of the service: it creates feeds. I believe we will be seeing more and more news and other content presented as feeds rather than as packaged products.

I read feeds of my friends’ updates on or on my phone via SMS (that is what sets the 140-character limit on messages). I also read feeds of news headlines from the Guardian and individual reporters. Jim Long, a network news photographer, Twitters from White House trips. Ana Marie Cox, the former Wonkette blogger and queen of the snarky political post, has been using Twitter to cover the US primaries for I blogged about that, saying she has found the perfect medium for her bon mots and snipes. She responded that Twitter is the perfect medium for covering a campaign. The format gives us a glimpse into what’s happening right now, and cuts to the bone. It’s a hack’s haiku.

Some samples from Cox: “Spin room has already started. Can hear the gentle murmur of BS already sloshing about in the hall … McCain donor just announced he was footing the bar bill for the night. You can start calling him ‘ambassador’ now … Ron Paul compresses coal into diamonds in his mouth … Mitt has so many things ‘in my bloodstream’ (cars, Michigan, business) you could make a v powerful vaccine out of him … First washing-of-underwear-in-sink of presidential cycle 2008!… Enjoying immensely that the pundits got it all, all globally wrong. In most professions, you’d lose your job.”

Because Twitter opened itself up with an API – a programming interface that enables developers to create new services on top of it – all sorts of new inventions are springing up. CommuterFeed is a Twitter service that lets fellow travellers share alerts about problems on their routes to work. Whenever you broadcast a live mobile video on, it enables you to send a post to Twitter to alert all your friends to watch. PR people are searching Twitter to find hot topics. I used Twitter to create a tool for collaborative criticism (imagine seeing your friends’ snide remarks as you all watch Pop Idol at the same time, each from your own couches). News sites are using Twitter to get witnesses to share updates on major news events, like earthquakes.

Says political blogger Patrick Ruffini: “Traditional news operated on a 24-hour cycle. Blogs shortened this to minutes and hours. Twitter shortens it further to seconds. It’s not right for every piece of information. But when it comes to instantly assembling raw data from several sources that then go into fully baked news stories, nothing beats it.”

All this springs from a deceptively simple idea and tool. And that is what never ceases to amaze me about the internet: create a platform, make it open, and people will do things with it that you never could have imagined. Considering that Twitter was cofounded by Evan Williams, who also cofounded the company that created Blogger and popularised personal publishing, I should have seen it coming. I just forgot that, on the web, big things often come in small packages.