Sticky, Sticky, Sticky

The emergence of "following" stories. Plus, a shiny new format for your eyes.

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A Sobering Stat

Web traffic to publishers is returning to normal

According to the big homie Joshua Benton over at Nieman Lab, the traffic spike news media has enjoyed for the last several weeks has begun evaporating.

In his words, “The explosion of traffic to news sites in mid-March was a spike, not a leveling-up to a new baseline. Interest in coronavirus news has fallen substantially. The ‘new normal’ has indeed become, well, kinda normal.”

How should I feel about this, Mark? Sad! Even though last month’s peak in traffic failed to stop publications from shuttering like window panes in a tornado, it was a nice consolation prize. It confirmed that news-gathering was an essential service. Now it’s just a “Casablanca”-esque, “We’ll always have March’s surge in page views” kind of moment.

An Intoxicating Tidbit

Partisan media is (right now) less popular than normal

Writing for my classmate, former housemate and newsletter reader Jack Kelly’s favorite website Axios, Sara Fischer and Neal Rothschild report that (putting aside, for a moment, the trend I just described above) increased traffic to news media has gone overwhelmingly to local and national news sites, not partisan organizations.

Why should I care, Mark? At the end of the day, when people need valuable information that impacts their well-being and daily life, they turn to local news. That’s a good thing.

And, it might represent a positive trend in American readership away from the hyper-partisan consumption patterns that Facebook and other social media encouraged circa 2016.

The Tall Drink of Water: Sticky, Sticky, Sticky

Engineers at The New York Times built a coronavirus module on its homepage that “remembers information you have read and emphasizes what you haven’t.”

As you can see in the below tweet, The Times’ data wonks created a product that tracks what news you’ve consumed about corona and presents you relevant updates.

Amongst the many reasons why this is badass, it helps reduce the workload of journalists; instead of having to update mundane information, a tracker bot will refresh the page accordingly.

Is this extra interesting for any reason, Mark? This widget caught my eye because it reminded me of an interesting startup out of Oakland, called Hometown, that has centered much of its identity around this exact kind of innovation.

The founders of Hometown, Ljuba Youngblom and Rick Marron, have created an incredible product that is still in its infancy. One of its core features: You can “follow” stories. That way, when you log back on, the app shows you just the latest on that story, keeping you informed while minimizing the redundant reading you have to do.

Youngblom and Marron have plenty of other tricks up their product-developing sleeves, but this move toward news interfaces that “remember” what you’ve read are very interesting.

In the same vein, you have likely also seen a number of media companies rolling out “bookmark” functions on their articles. I just noticed The New Yorker unveiled their version of the feature recently, and Medium has been doing a great job of it all along.

Mark, would you just hurry up and explain why I should care. Innovations like these are all designed for one purpose: to make websites stickier. Having a homepage remember what you’ve read and suggest the next chapter in the saga encourages repeat visitation. And bookmarks, like the one above, allow users to create personalized libraries of stories they want to return to.

Each tool adds a lot of user value, and it will be interesting to see what news sites do in the coming months to continue this trend.

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