Hearts and Foxes’ Mobile Play

Sometimes it takes an origami calendar to prove you’re onto something. Hearts and Foxes, the new teen/tween celebrity site from Spinmedia, found its name serendipitously. Site editor Aimee Curran was sitting through naming meeting after naming meeting. And like anyone who’s had to suffer through these, she started doodling and found herself drawing a fox and a heart. The next day, the company’s lead engineer, Kris Cost, saw that his origami of the day calendar was showing how to make a fox. The following day, the calendar depicted a heart. It was kismet.

Hearts and Foxes, which went live on March 23, is also betting that timing is in its corner. After recognizing the limitations of WordPress, which the entire Spinmedia empire (Spin, Brooklyn Vegan, and Stereogum, to name a few) uses, the company decided it needed a flexible framework to foster mobile publishing. It wanted a better foundation for better touchpoints across devices. In entertainment, where news moves rapidly, Hearts and Foxes set out to create a new platform that was better in tune with storytelling for the mobile era.

The platform, called Lucid, was built with the understanding of what editors and marketers need. A team of six engineers and developers built the platform, but also had editorial sit at the drawing board to give feedback on things like user experience, how they write a story and what the editorial workflow is like.

According to Max Engel, vp of product at Spinmedia, being siloed in WordPress puts up limitations for publishers that have verticals. With Lucid, the company is learning more about its users and is finding it’s easier to recommend content across verticals because now the user database is shared across the entire platform.

“It gives us a level of granularity in understanding how users use the sites and a broader picture,” Engel said. “We can correlate interest across sites, so we know if someone is on Spin about a certain artist and that band has content on Stereogum, we have all his shared knowledge and can build better solutions. It’s better for advertising and just provides a common technical infrastructure for us to scale and manage the company.”

Hearts and Foxes content is made for mobile. Short bites of information with photo galleries and quizzes accompany quick bursts of text. For example, here’s a 110-word piece asking the important question of the day: Will Miley and Liam end up together? There are images of the recently broken-hearted couple, as well as a poll asking readers what they think will happen with the celebrity relationship. And as more information comes out about a particular story, the outlet can now quickly update and let its readers know.

“It wasn’t easy to tell a user in an email in the evening saying, ‘We know you were reading these six stories during the day. Here’s what happened since you engaged them,’” Engel said. “It wasn’t a discreet way to get into a story. That was the broader understanding of what the problem was.”

Sites like Spin that began as print magazines — or even other properties that started as Web-first — are going through similar exercises, trying to figure out how to write differently for mobile consumption. The Spinmedia bet with Hearts and Foxes: building a mobile-first platform will solve these issues.

Hearts and Foxes is the first Spinmedia property to use the platform and is seen internally as a way to test the company’s hypothesis of going mobile-first and what it means to build a framework and new publishing system. It’s also the first owned and operated site the company incubated and Spinmedia looks at Hearts and Foxes as a canvas to test out different methods of traffic acquisition and growing readership.

“It’s a mobile-first market, where we’re seeing high levels of mobile engagement,” Engel said. “It’s a good opportunity for us to examine, to not only serve, a new publishing platform, but look at it as a new way for better development, to accommodate people used to consuming content on mobile and what does it mean to write on mobile.”

On the ad front, there is none. At least not yet. Engel said that the luxury of building the site internally meant there aren’t any expectations of specific revenue goals. But there are things in the pipeline that seem to oscillate between standard IAB units and advertising content on the desktop site. On mobile, the outlet is looking at creating “a better canvas for sponsored content and how are we creating a place to serve brand affiliation.”

The publication is also still trying to figure out how to sell ads. It’s looking more to advertising content, bringing in sponsorship around content it would already be creating.

“My hope, as a product person, is that we can get away from the CPM game with this,” Engel said. “We’ve done as much as we can with this new site to figure out how advertising is additive to the user experience and not in competition.”

Image via Shutterstock

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