The question is no longer just a hypothetical one. With increasing convergence between social media and traditional content, what is known as a traditional news website might not exist in the coming years.
Perhaps a revealing example is the creation of Facebook applications by a Seattle-based aggregator, NewsCloud, which received a grant from the Knight Foundation to study how young people receive their news through social networks.
With developer Jeff Reifman leading the way, NewsCloud has developed three applications (Hot Dish, Minnesota Daily and Seattle In:Site) that engage users in news content through linking to stories by providing a headline, photo and blurb. The applications also allow them to blog, post links themselves and much more – all while getting points for completing “challenges” that can be redeemed for prizes, which works as an incentive to stay engaged. Prizes include everything from t-shirts to tickets to a baseball game to a MacBook. Some of these challenges are online ones (sharing a story, commenting on content, blogging, etc.) and others are offline challenges (attend a marketing event, write a letter to the editor).
Hot Dish was the first application that NewsCloud worked to create with Grist.org, a website that provides environmental news, commentary and advice. The stories posted are centered around climate change.
Minnesota Daily is an application that was created to feature news surrounding the University of Minnesota community, featuring news from the college newspaper’s website (MnDaily.com). (Disclosure: I worked as the editor in chief of the paper when the application was launched.) The interesting thing about this application is that not only does it look and feel like the newspaper’s actual site, it pulls several features directly from it, such as a feed of university-related Tweets and even some banner ads. The application is mostly used to connect students to MnDaily.com stories, but has the potential for much more.
Seattle In:Site functions for a similar purpose, but the content produced is by journalism students at University of Washington and the application features certain multimedia that can directly be watched on the Facebook app.
Replacing news sites?
It might not be these Facebook applications that replace news websites, but perhaps something similar. The point is: it’s all meshing together in one pot of media and it might not be far off before social media sites like Facebook become the primary publishing platform. Of course, this may take some time and some needed additions in content management for these platforms to be viable, but let’s use these Facebook applications as a starting point. The checklist:
- Content: We need original content, not just aggregation. Well, these Facebook applications already include ability for users to blog (again, with some needs for improvement, like offering rich text).
- Multimedia: Users can watch videos directly on the Seattle In:Site application. The Daily application features a Twitter feed, and the possibilities for more are endless.
- Subscription: Users can sign up for the application and follow it on their Facebook profile pages. It also includes the ability to ad the application as one of your tabs on the profile page. And of course there are always twitter feeds.
- Advertising: The site currently pulls ads from the other websites, but could also include original ads. Why not make some of the challenges sponsored? For example, a business would pay for you to post a challenge that involves going to their business (prizes could be sponsored too).
- Virality: Things spread like fire through social networking sites. You don’t have to worry about users coming to you. With the way Facebook is structured, things spread quite quickly through sharing. For example, if I am signed up for the application and do sort of interaction with it, it will show up on my profile page for my friends to see. They will see if I posted something, etc. The applications also allow the administrator to send notifications to its visitors and users. Also, users have the option to place an application badge onto their profile page for their friends to see. When I was editor at the Minnesota Daily, we received 15,000 visits from Facebook out of 257,000 in one month. That is a good start. And I can image many more people didn’t click through but only read the content actually provided on the application.
NewsCloud application source code is now open to college media that is interested in using the application and customizing it themselves, or media organizations can hire NewsCloud to manage the application for them.
The applications were used to gather data on how users were interacting with the content. Jeff Reifman said preliminary data is now available and the research being done by Christine Greenhow from the University of Minnesota will mostly be complete by the end of August. It will be interesting to see what the findings are. Using the information, the applications can be retooled to better attract users and learn how they interact with news most.