Inside BuzzFeed’s new app: ‘We are obsessed with performance’
BuzzFeed jumped into the news-app fray Thursday, and the devastating Charleston church shooting gave the publisher a chance to show off its serious side. BuzzFeed has been branching out from its viral roots to hard-hitting journalism, and while most people still come to the site for its lifestyle and entertainment fare, the app represents an earnest attempt to go after a news audience.
In contrast to the riotous main site, BuzzFeed went with a black background and subdued headlines for the app. The BuzzFeedy elements are there but muted. Along with BuzzFeed stories, users will encounter fare that’s been curated from the likes of The New York Times, The Guardian, The Atlantic and the Washington Post. It’s as if BuzzFeed is saying: Judge us by the company we keep. “Convincing the public [BuzzFeed is a true news brand] is hard,” but that’s where the app could go help, said The Poynter Institute’s Kelly McBride.
Main features include “Quickly Catch Up,” one-sentence summaries of the day’s top stories, followed by a context-rich feed of articles. Users can get alerts on topics including breaking news, world, U.S., politics, LBGT, celebrity as well as specific stories like the church shooting.
There’s a growing recognition among publishers that readers are fatigued by feeds of endlessly scrolling articles, which has led some sites to ditch the infinite scroll. The BuzzFeed app has a nice sense of finality to it, with a message that punctuates the end of its stream that reads, “You’re all caught up.”
We caught up with BuzzFeed news-apps editor Stacy-Marie Ishmael, formerly of the Financial Times, to talk about the strategy behind the app. Excerpts:
Did you design the app with a sense that readers are exhausted with infinite scroll in mind?
We’re not optimizing to force people to tap through to the “Catch Up” stream. At the same time, we want to present a universe of interesting options and stories. It’s helpful to signal to people when they’ve “finished” something, even though news itself is never “over.” It’s also useful from an editorial perspective — did what we select form a cohesive and useful whole for someone browsing through? And endless scroll is a challenging user experience on mobile.
There’s not an obvious hierarchy of stories. What determines the volume of stories and order they’re in?
That’s entirely a question of newsflow and the resulting editorial judgment about what to include. We happened to launch on a day filled with breaking news and ongoing, important stories. So the app needs to reflect that. It’s a mix of the urgent, the important, the fun, the entertaining, the useful. I wouldn’t describe it as a hierarchy of importance.
There are limited personalization options. Do you plan to add to them over time?
We will continue to experiment with these, but we aren’t going to get super granular. Alerts require considerable editorial investment, and that’s something you have to balance against hyper-personalization.
The articles load fast, in contrast with many mobile news sites that are notoriously slow. How did you build it for speed?
It’s a mix of design choices that help the app “feel” fast and back-end optimizations that actually reduce the time it takes for our audiences to access what they want. We are obsessed with performance, and we spent a huge amount of time and effort trying to deliver on that front.
What’s the metric of success for the app?
We are paying attention to a combination of elements, including shares, time spent, and whether people are using the different features of the app, like opting into notifications.
Cloud computing is the new frontier for companies looking to get ahead of Google
The fiercest battle being waged between Amazon, Google and Microsoft is over cloud computing — Google’s deprecation of the third party cookie will open media and advertising up as new fronts in that war.
‘Don’t freak out yet’: Publishers brace for iOS changes to their newsletter businesses
Apple's Mail Privacy Protection will scramble the plans many publishers had for their newsletters.
‘The future of CTV is direct mail’: How Lockard & Wechsler Direct navigates clients through a tight TV marketplace
Lockard & Wechsler Direct, a 30-year-old performance marketing agency, is one of several shops trying to pick their way through a more complicated TV marketplace.
SponsoredHow advertisers can tell the difference between banner blindness and ad-aware consumers
Aditya Padhye, general manager, Trestle at eyeo Advertising is part and parcel of daily life –– from billboards in the street to smartphone apps, its presence is unavoidable. While some advertising strikes a chord with people, there are certain ads that have the opposite effect. Increasing internet usage among all demographics, higher demand for sales […]
Fewer stories, told better: News UK is changing how it commissions stories to grow subs
The Times (UK) and The Sunday Times are changing the way they commission stories to grow digital subscriptions.
Member ExclusiveMedia Briefing: How publishers’ fourth-quarter ad sales strategies are shaping up
This week’s Media Briefing checks in with publishers to see where things stand with fourth quarter ad sales as the biggest season in the sales cycle approaches.