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Distributed Content Poses a Quandary for Online Publishers

Online publishers are facing a looming dilemma: Is the loss of direct control over the reader’s experience worth an increase in traffic and attention?

Apple, Google and Facebook believe the answer is an unequivocal “yes,” and each has entered the distributed content publishing arena with a method to permit publishers to customize content for more attractive and faster display on mobile devices.

Apple would like you to use its flexible and deeply integrated Apple News Format; Facebook is very bullish on Instant Articles, now also integrated into Messenger; and Google is downright evangelistic about Accelerated Mobile Pages present.

Publishing articles via social networks and other aggregation sites and apps can definitely increase traffic and reader interaction, but that interaction takes place on on the social network itself rather than the publisher’s web site. It’s not so much that there is a high price to pay to participate, it’s that no one knows what that price tag will ultimately be—and in fact, that price tag may look very different for large publishers than it does for small ones.

The concept is simple: Publishers format their stories in each tech giant’s format and those stories are served directly from the servers and apps of those companies, essentially bypassing the web site (and much of the advertising, design and additional functionality) of the publisher. The publisher gets their content displayed extremely quickly, usually with some sort of mark indicating to readers that it’s fast and optimized for mobile, and possibly even priority access or promotion, especially in the case of Apple News.

All these features may have thrown a garland over the horns of the dilemma, but it’s made them no less sharp.

If, say, The New York Times publishes articles into Facebook using Facebook Instant Articles, and readers interact with that content only within Facebook, what will happen to the readership of the nytimes.com site over the next 10 years? Or even just two? Now ask the same questions about smaller entities, like The (Sonora, CA) Union Democrat, which gets 420,000 page views a month?

The growing primacy of mobile device uses has only increased this trend. A mobile Facebook user has a better experience if they stay within Facebook, rather than jumping between app to browser repeatedly, and the same holds true for any social media app. Apple has begun to push news content into its device search results, which it can only do with Apple News content.

Consider, for example, Now This, a news resource (it’s hard even to know what to call it…) that dumped having any site at all in favor of placing the news it reports directly where readers are: Facebook, Vine, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Youtube and Snapchat. Is a publisher still a publisher if it has no publication? For some, all page views are created equal, whether they happen in Apple’s iPhone search, a Facebook feed, or in a tweet—but some of these platforms have limited advertising options, and some have none at all.

There’s one more consideration: When you publish on another firm’s platform, they can set restrictions on what you can publish. Both Facebook and Apple include an application and/or review process for content.

Though these technology giants tout distributed content publishing as an exciting opportunity that no publisher should miss out on—more readers, better looking content, additional advertising models—the jury is still out for most publishers.

Don’t forget: The biggest companies used to be in oil; now the giants are in technology. When you play with Google, Apple, and Facebook, you’re playing in the big leagues.

You may be interested in reading more on the Hop Studios blog:
Google Accelerated Mobile Pages
Apple News Format
Facebook Instant Articles


Mountee - Now Available for EE 3 and Wordpress

We generally try to keep the superlatives to a minimum here, but today I’m making a special exception because I am literally bursting with excitement about the release of Mountee 3.

Mountee — hellomountee.com  — is an ExpressionEngine and WordPress add-on/plugin that lets you access your themes as Mac Finder files directly and instantly. I know!! That means you can edit your code using your favorite Mac application instead of being stuck inside the textarea of a CMS, or needing to use SFTP or git to make a simple change. We love it So Much because it makes our lives as web developers so much easier.

Mountee works by connecting to ExpressionEngine and Wordpress transparently with any admin’s username and password, and it loads templates and themes as a drive. It’s a huge timesaver:

  • Double-click any template to open and edit it in your favorite coding app.
  • To create a new template or theme, just make a new file or folder.
  • Develop your own set of re-usable templates and groups, then simply drag them into your Mountee drive to kick-start your next project.

I invite you to give Mountee a try today by downloading it from hellomountee.com. (And if you’re wishing this was available for any CMS besides WordPress or EE, just drop me a line—we’ve got plans in the works for expansion.)

Thanks for your time, and don’t hesitate to contact us if you’ve got questions or feedback. Like, seriously — we really want this tool to be useful to you and to us, so if you have suggestions for ways to improve it… I’m listening.


Hopping Down the Road: Chicago and Detroit

Over the next few weeks, Hop Studios will be at several conferences.

First of all, we’re attending LION Summit, Sep. 29 - Oct 1 in Chicago, a conference for local independent online news publishers.

We’ll be doing two talks there: One is a CMS showdown where we’ll be vigerously defending ExpressionEngine against all comers, and the other will be an introduction to some of the distributed publishing options that publishers currently have to choose from, namely Facebook Instant Articles, Google’s AMP project, and the growing beast that is Apple News.

Next, we’ll be dropping by the aptly named ExpressionEngine Conference in Detroit Oct 3-4, to learn how to, you know, ExpressionEngine-ize things.

If you’ll be at either event, we hope to see you there!


St Andrew’s Cathedral: Pairing Beautiful Design with Elegant Functionality

It’s not every day we get to create a Web site for a cathedral!

This month we were thrilled to launch the redesigned site of St Andrew’s Cathedral in Singapore. This was a redesign in every sense of the word: the fresh look is a dramatic change from the old site, but we also put a content management system into place, replacing the flat-file Dreamweaver site that was such a bear for staff to update.

St Andrew’s Cathedral is a thriving Anglican community with a diverse and busy congregation. Their new Web site is similarly complex—home to a chockfull event calendar, weekly audio sermons (also available as a podcast), and Vicar Writes, a weekly column by The Revd Canon Terry Wong. And don’t miss Courier Online, a blog featuring writings by clergy and congregation. The first few posts are an intriguing mix of testimony, historical writing, and news.

Since the old site had been maintained by hand, cathedral staff needed updating to be a quicker and easier process, if only to keep up with the many cathedral activities! We set them up with our favorite content management, ExpressionEngine, and got to stretch our muscles with our first implementation of ExpressionEngine 3.4.2.

In addition, St Andrew’s wanted to be able to cater to the increasing number of visitors who visit the site on mobile devices and tablets. Every page is designed responsively so that the site is only readable and attractive on smaller devices, but the functionality shifts so that it is also easy to use whether the visitor is wielding a finger or a mouse.

The final result is a site we all feel proud of, with the flexibility to feature any piece of content on the home page, but with enough complexity to allow staff to create small interior verticals from groups of pages, as with this tour of the cathedral’s history and facilities.

Congratulations, St Andrew’s!


UC Berkeley Cal NERDs Web Site Gets a Facelift

We’re always excited to work with universities, and today we’re pleased as punch to announce the re-launch of the Web site of a very special UC Berkeley program: Cal NERDs.

The Cal NERDs program brings together science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) undergraduate and graduate students. While in the program, this diverse group of students can participate in a large number of programs, research opportunities, and receive advice and coaching. Many go on to exciting profession and academic careers thanks in part to the assistance and support they receive as a Cal NERD.

Screenshot of the redesigned Cal NERDs home pageCal NERDs is led by Diana Lizarraga, who reached out to Hop Studios after seeing our work on the Greater Good Magazine, another Berkeley project. Diana had two other key priorities in mind as well: the need for the site to display responsively across desktop, tablet and phone browsers; and accessibility support for disabled site visitors.

After talking with Diana about her updating needs and getting an understanding of her busy schedule, it was clear that what was most necessary was a site that could flex with the program throughout the school year. We limited the number of static content areas on the home page in favor of a series of easy-to-update boxes that can be used to highlight anything on the site, from students to awards to upcoming events. Some neat customization features allow Diana to pick the color, graphic treatment, and pair them with photographs of the NERDs and their projects. The resulting design is vibrant, modern and professional, and highlights the student-designed Cal NERDs logo.

Visitors using screen readers will find some features intended to make browsing the site a little easier: jump links make it easy to get to the page content; CSS styles can be turned off without also losing site readability; and the site can be navigated effectively using the tab key or other non-mouse input device.

Looking good, Nerd Nation!

more posts from September 2016 More From September 2016

Web Design and ExpressionEngine Development Consulting - Vancouver (BC) Canada