Denver Convention Center

Two weeks ago was the Online News Association’s 2016 Conference, at the Hyatt Regency Denver. I went to listen, learn, and see if there are any tips I can bring back to GMG.

Opening Keynote: Fidji Simo & Samantha Barry

Among the people I talked to, this was by far the most anticipated event. Samantha Barry, Head of Social at CNN, interviewed Fidji Simo, who leads the product teams in charge of Media at Facebook.

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The video of the chat is on the ONA site for now. The tone was friendly, with Barry touching on some controversial issues but not really challenging Simo on her answers.

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Here were my main takeaways from the talk:

  • The best Facebook Live is active and lengthy, not talking heads: Simo said having two people just talking at you doesn’t pull in audiences on Live; It’s news like that idiot climbing Trump Tower and car chases that work: basically, things that happen outside that are exciting. Simo also suggested making videos at least 10 minutes long, to allow audience to develop.
  • Human curation for Trending Topics is staying dead: Despite problems with trending topics over the last few weeks, it sounds like editors aren’t coming back. Curiously, Simo said that the reason is scale (ie they can’t afford writers), while at the same time talking about the ‘really big’ operations team geared towards protecting the community. She also floated the idea of letting users report false stories, which would lead to some sort of tag signaling that this story is misleading. This strikes me as a pretty reasonable approach that would be immediately co-opted by unreasonable people and will be very hard to make work. I think Facebook would be better served by just hiring people until their algorithms are all-the-way ready: I know the perception that Facebook has an ideological agenda is really damaging to them, but I think more transparency on story selection is probably better for them in the long run than training people not to trust the trending news module.
  • I’m still skeptical of the ‘lift’ from Instant Articles: Simo repeated the line from Dan Rose that “publishers who are publishing on Instant Articles, they’re seeing a 25 percent lift in their articles being read on Facebook”. Simo used similar language “if you post your content on Instant Articles, people are going to read 25% more than on the mobile web in the US... 48% globally”. Facebook hasn’t released any information on how this is calculated, and the devil is in the details. Is this 25% more pageviews? 25% deeper scroll depth? Is this controlled against publishers who don’t use Instant Articles? Talking to digital publishers and analytics vendors, the general sense is that Instant Articles does nothing for traffic, and there have even been claims of drops in traffic (though I don’t really find those credible). Obviously our faith in Facebook reporting is not at an all-time high right now.
  • Monetization on Instant Articles is working: Simo name dropped a few publishers who are making as much money on FB Instant pageivews as on their own mobile inventory. I was able to confirm with one of them this was the case. We (Gizmodo Media) aren’t at that point yet, but it’s clear the potential to monetize on Instant is a strong point.
  • Lots of stuff is coming down the product pipeline: When asked about what was next, Simo didn’t hesitate. 360 video, mid-roll ads, comment pinning in video discussions, a purely video feed, and more. The feature that people seemed most excited about was the creation of a new sub-admin level of page access, so reporters can create videos without being admins. This actually got a spontaneous round of applause (note: nerds)!

Those were my main notes from this talk: I think it’s worth checking out.