The State of the News Audience, Post-Election

Dan Maccarone of Charming Robot has spent much of his career conducting user research with regular people about how they use various forms of news media. He and his team spend time with them inside of their homes, learning how they get their news and looking over their shoulder to retrace their steps together. Having conducted this type of research repeatedly and over a long period of time, he has developed a keen sense for spotting emerging changes in perception and action. Based on his most recent batch of conversations he identified a few emerging behavior patterns, useful to think about for media companies and brands alike.

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Dan shared insights he derived from interviews shortly after the 2017 Presidential Election, at the BigWP meetup in New York in March.

Video is in a new moment

For years video was a feature that users universally scowled at across Dan’s research. The use of video in lieu of text-based articles has finally found strong support among an audience segment. He reports that there’s still a strong negative contingent, but that it is now a polarizing topic – some people seek it out, while others still specifically avoid it. He found about half of the interview subjected preferred video.

Trust has likely never been harder to secure

Viewers are judging everything that passes through their browser with heavier doses of skepticism than ever. This, combined with the feeling that there’s no way to keep up with the ongoing onslaught of new information, makes it a particularly challenging time for publications to foster engagement from their audiences.

Negative news has exhausted viewers

With what feels like a constant barrage of hard news, scandal-chasing, cliffhangers, and fear mongering, viewers feel like they are overwhelmed, and need a break. This seems to be more of an issue with national news, and less so with the local news mix.

Content has to travel to succeed

It’s been the case for many years that most people are visiting sites through side doors rather than home pages. Likewise, Facebook has long since earned a spot next to Google as the starting point for most content journeys. What Dan observes about the current moment is that people are often not noticing where they end up at the end of that journey, and when they do they are holding on to that overarching skepticism. In the video below, Dan shares a conversation he had with an interview subject about what you’d expect to be a benign and non-controversial article.

You can follow Dan on Twitter at @DanMaccarone.

And to be notified of the next BigWP event in New York, join the Meetup group. There are also enterprise events throughout the year in various other big cities.

If you’d like to hear more about how WordPress.com VIP can free your teams up to focus on publishing, get in touch.

The Dream Internship: Work at Automattic (Summer 2017 and Beyond)

Automattic — which runs WordPress.com, Akismet, VaultPress, and many other services — is hiring interns, specifically to work on the WordPress.com VIP team.

WordPress.com VIP provides hosting and support for high-profile, high-traffic WordPress sites, including Time.com, People.com, FiveThirtyEight.com, qz.com, internet.org, TheSun.co.uk, NYPost.com, and more.

The VIP team is continually looking for interns to work on client-facing development and support. These paid internships run 12 weeks and can be completed either full-time or part-time.

Where will you be working? Anywhere! Automattic is a distributed company. We’re happy if you work from wherever you’re happy — as long as you have a good internet connection.

What will you work on? The internship will focus on things such as working on improving VIP and community plugins, debugging client code, building tools to help clients better manage their sites, and making performance and security improvements to the WordPress.com VIP platform. Your work can also be tailored to fit your personal interests.

The VIP team is serious about increasing diversity in the tech industry. We encourage applications from women, people of color, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ community, and other communities traditionally underrepresented in this field.

Interested?
Start by taking the internship quiz.

After you’ve completed the quiz, please introduce yourself in the space below and explain why you’d like to be an intern on the VIP team. Be clear about what you’ve done and what you’re interested in working on. Feel free to use as much space as you need in the form and be sure to include links to your online profiles as appropriate.


The VIP team is considering applicants on a rolling basis. If your application sounds interesting, we’ll be in touch. Good luck and thanks for your interest!

Alexis Kulash is a former VIP Intern. During her internship, she worked on transitioning VIP sites to PHP 7 and prevented potential security and performance problems on some of the biggest sites in the world.

The Coral Project – Community Tools from Newsrooms, for Newsrooms

The ongoing critical interest in the relationships between news publications and their reader communities has only escalated throughout the 2016 US election cycle and beyond. The practice of journalism as a craft and a business is in the national spotlight, and broad cultural issues relating to credibility, truth, and trust are also under exploration. As a part of this, there’s a renewed focus in the industry on ways to improve how media companies build and sustain meaningful relationships with their audiences.

Andrew Losowsky, The Coral Project

The Coral Project is a non-profit initiative focused on these challenges. It’s a collaboration between Mozilla, The New York Times, and the Washington Post, and is funded by a Knight Foundation grant. In addition to ongoing research projects, they’re developing open source tools that help journalists and community managers with the thankless tasks of working with community-sourced material and improving the quality of the discussions in online comments.

Forms purpose-built for community sourcing

Andrew Losowsky, Project Lead of the project at Mozilla, stopped by the March BigWP meetup to tell us about the tool set and the thinking behind it. Ask, a tool designed for journalists working on data collection through forms, is purpose-built for the kind of sorting, archiving, and display tasks newsrooms go through any time they put together these kinds of stories.

In the clip below, Andrew explains that use case and how Ask works better than the other tools commonly used today:

Another element of Ask, the Gallery Manager, allows an editor to embed a curated entry into a story using a WordPress shortcode, while allowing edits and omissions as needed, in such a way that preserves the original full set of collected data.

Univision recently used Ask to take in, sort, and use responses from their audience during a special live town hall edition of the weekly news magazine show Aquí y ahora.

Filling in the empty box

When it comes to comment tools, the team at Coral is seeking to improve quality by addressing both cultural and technical challenges. Many online communities suffer from a lack of direction and human tending from the outset, which dooms them to negative interactions and unmet expectations from the start. Using a metaphor popularized by our own Derek Powazek(@fraying), Andrew explains why one of the critical features of Talk, the Coral comment system, is the ability to place a question at the top of the empty comment box:

Andrew concluded with a plea for site owners and operators to carefully consider with which companies they entrust their comment data and systems. Taking the open source approach puts you in control of your community for the long haul. This creates the most direct relationship between you and your readers and participants, who you may be looking to as paying subscribers and sustainers at one point or another if you don’t already.

The Ask tool has been released and is available for use, and the Talk tool is in beta testing and will become a WordPress plugin. The Coral Project is also working on guides to best practices in journalism and community management, which will be released later this quarter. Their blog offers a wealth of information, research findings, and calls for participation.

You can follow Andrew on Twitter at @Losowsky and the project at @coralproject.

And to be notified of the next BigWP event in New York, join the Meetup group. There are also enterprise events throughout the year in various other big cities.

 

If you’d like to hear more about how WordPress.com VIP can free your teams up to focus on publishing, get in touch.

 

 

USA Today Sports Media Group on the Benefits of a Common Theme

When newly acquired publications and sites come in to a large publishing group, they often come with baggage: their own approach to UX and underlying technologies. These unique themes and feature sets can add up to significant technical and operational debt. It’s a whole lot of tools and processes that only exist for one project’s benefit. And in most cases, those unique systems bring with them a distinction without a difference – there’s little benefit to the end user that’s gained from that diversity of approach. It’s just history.

This is a set of issues that we’ve seen again and again. Bringing groups of publications together under a common theme and architecture can reap tremendous rewards, across speed, productivity, and cost savings.

David Parsons, USA Today Sports Media Group

Earlier this month at the BigWP meetup in NYC, David Parsons of USA Today offered a peek into the evolution of the company’s Sports Media Group and its underlying systems. His team worked with WordPress.com VIP to migrate a number of sites, each with its own unique theme hosted on Amazon, over to VIP. All of the sites are now under their shared Lawrence theme, with a system called Wasabi that can turn on and off features from site to site.

Here’s David explaining the history of the project and the ways working with WordPress.com VIP frees his team up to focus on what’s most important:

“When we first started off, we wanted to be as lightweight as possible and we were picking up these extremely heavy CMS’s that aren’t necessarily WordPress. So what we initially did is move everything to WordPress as fast as possible, and we hosted this ourselves on the Amazon platform. And we had site-specific themes, so every codebase for every site was completely unique.

We soon realized that there were a lot of issues with this, especially when a site goes down, or we have an issue overnight. Obviously there’s the potential of losing thousands of dollars. As soon as possible we moved to WordPress.com VIP, and we moved to a platform called Lawrence, which is essentially a shared theme. By moving to WordPress.com VIP, we were able to not worry about downtime, and whenever we push our code up for deployment, they run an additional code check to make sure we’re not pushing anything up to production that could potentially be catastrophic. Things like security we no longer have to think about. So this allows our team to focus on building awesome stuff.”

USAT-image.pngThe ability to create and launch new sites quickly, and centrally control the feature set for each one or a group of them, enabled the Sports Media Group team to quickly test a concept for a new set of NFL team sites, and then roll it out across all 32 teams:

In this next clip, David explains how the WordPress Customizer manages various look and feel elements for each site.

Site-by-site feature interface

He also describes the plugin interface, depicted above, that allows the team to easily control features site by site, and apply functionality created for one to any or all of them:

You can follow David on Twitter at @dpjustice.

And to be notified of the next BigWP event in New York, join the Meetup group. There are also enterprise events throughout the year in various other big cities.

If you’d like to hear more about how WordPress.com VIP can free your teams up to focus on publishing, get in touch.

WordPress.com VIP Supports Women in Digital Journalism at ONA

I am so proud to share that WordPress.com VIP was a sponsor at  this year’s ONA Women’s Leadership Accelerator at USC. This was our second year supporting the program, and my second year spending time there. We’re proud to help make the program completely tuition-free for the participants.

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WLA is a weeklong forum aimed at developing strong leadership skills for women working in digital journalism. Twenty-five women were chosen from 350 applicants to spend a week developing leadership and management skills. Speakers included Kara Swisher, Recode co-founder; Liz Heron, former Huffington Post executive editor; and Charo Henriquez, former executive editor of People En Espanol.

By sheer coincidence, my former boss from the Chicago Tribune was this year’s facilitator. Tran Ha, the former Editor and General Manager of the RedEye, was my first manager out of college. Both last year and this year, I got to sit in the back of the classroom as the facilitator coached attendees on problem-solving in the workplace with real-life examples. The very candid discussions about the difficult parts of leaderships allowed women to connect with each other – and hopefully build a support network to help each other throughout their careers. It was also terrific to see many VIP clients represented: The Atlantic, The New York Times, CNN, Bloomberg, and FiveThirtyEight.

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Tran asked me to participate as a mentor, and I spent the afternoon working with four women, from AJ+, NPR, The Guardian, and Vice. The topics we worked on together included hiring and leading a remote team, project managing engineers, and how to innovate within a busy daily news cycle. Later that evening, I gave a two-part presentation at dinner.

For the first part, I talked about the open-source ethos that powers WordPress. Earlier in my career, I worked in newsrooms and used WordPress daily. Back then I knew the software and dashboard very well, but didn’t know the mission behind it all: to democratize publishing. I wanted the help the leaders of newsrooms understand why supporting open source is so important.

For the second part, I talked about transitioning from a fairly gender-balanced workplace in editorial, to a mostly-male workplace at the intersection of journalism and technology about five years ago. I talked about the challenges of imposter syndrome and making your voice heard when you’re a minority, and reminded the women in the room that they are an important change in the wave of diversity in leadership at journalism and tech companies.

I’m thrilled that VIP was a part of this event for the second year in a row, and I’m looking forward to seeing these women excel across the industry!

For more reading, you can keep an eye on the rising stars here. If you’re interested in learning more about women leaders the digital media space, definitely check out Katie Hawkins-Garr’s newsletter from the The Poynter Institute. It’s an incredible read and a great way to find out about amazing things women are doing in journalism and technology.

Announcing the 2017 VIP Workshop

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May 8-11, 2017 @ The Carneros Resort

We are excited to announce the next installment of the WordPress.com VIP Workshop! As the leading provider of enterprise WordPress solutions, WordPress.com VIP provides the premier event focused on the needs of enterprise WordPress users. In our 6th year of the VIP Workshop we’re continuing where we left off last year with sessions for product owners and developers along with a Best of WordPress.com VIP showcase where we recognize the best of your work over the past year (stay tuned for when we open the request for entries).

 

The VIP Workshop provides a unique opportunity to learn from the WordPress.com VIP team in person, as well as exchange ideas and experiences with other WordPress.com VIP clients and partners through networking lunches and dinners, in-depth curriculum and exercises, and focused, collaborative conversations.

A quick peek at the itinerary – details & agenda will be continually updated on the new WordPress.com VIP Workshop site, powered by WooCommerce.

  • Monday, May 8th — Arrival Day. Check-in, special guest keynote and welcome dinner.
  • Tuesday, May 9th — In depth business and engineering sessions.
  • Wednesday, May 10th — In-depth product sessions and hands-on development workshops. We’ll wrap the day up with the Best of WordPress.com VIP showcase!
  • Thursday, May 11th — Departure Day.

Space is limited for this event, so register now and take advantage of early bird pricing! Early bird pricing is $3,500 each until February 15. After which, the full participant price will increase to $4,000.

Pricing includes airport transfers to/from the SFO airport, meals, and lodging (May 8th – 11th).

WordPress 2016 VIP Workshop - Carneros Inn, Napa, CA, USA

Header image by CM Howard from the 2015 Automattic WordPress developer summit at the Carneros Inn in Napa, CA

BigWP returns to London next week

Calling all WordPress professionals in the London area! After a brief hiatus, we’re pleased to announce the return of BigWP London, when we invite enterprise-scale users of WordPress and the agencies who serve them for an evening of learning, sharing and maybe a little socialising.

BigWP Meetups are an opportunity to peer behind the curtains at some of the highest-traffic and highest-profile WordPress operations. We usually have a handful of short presentations, usually but not exclusively technical in nature, with a chance to chat and ask questions afterwards.

The first BigWP of 2017 will take place in central London on the evening of Thursday 19 January; and will be hosted by News UK, publishers of The Times and The Sun, at their offices next to The Shard.

News UK moved thesun.co.uk to WordPress.com VIP last summer, becoming the fastest growing newspaper site in the UK, with well over 20 million monthly unique visitors, and tens of millions of page views every week. They recently added Scottish and Irish editions within a WordPress multisite configuration, all managed using the same innovative extension to the WordPress Customiser. WordPress is fast becoming an important part of News Corp’s worldwide publishing infrastructure, powering more and more sites in the US, India and Australia, as well as in the UK.

The schedule will be finalised shortly, but will include presentations from the News UK team, as well as our two UK-based VIP partner agencies, Human Made (our co-sponsors for the event) and Big Bite. Come straight from work: we’ll be providing food and drink.

Capacity at the event is limited; so please sign up today via our page at meetup.com to book your place. You will need to submit a request to join the group if you aren’t already a member: this is purely to ensure the group retains its enterprise focus.

With the US Election, a Landmark Week for WordPress.com VIP

There were mixed feelings on the VIP team last week, when a joke about one of our clients went viral.

Reports of obsessive refreshing of the US election predictions on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site, hosted on WordPress.com VIP, began to appear in late October. As Election Day got ever closer, things reached fever pitch.

One of the campaigns even felt the need to send an email to supporters, urging them to “stop refreshing FiveThirtyEight” and focus on getting out the vote instead.

Things really went into overdrive when the team fired up their Election Day liveblog. The first calls were made at 7pm Eastern; traffic surged as visitors looked for guidance on the clues each new result gave to the final, surprising outcome.

By midnight, FiveThirtyEight had posted — in a single day — the kind of traffic numbers we would usually expect of the most popular, mass-appeal sites we host… over the course of a week. Not bad for a nerdy site all about statistics.

We’re absolutely delighted to see a client doing so well, but the VIP team were all too aware of the responsibility on our shoulders. We knew our systems and practices would face their sternest test ever — even if constant refreshing hadn’t become a new national pastime.

It wasn’t just FiveThirtyEight, of course. With so many VIP clients in the news business, many of the sites we host saw significant traffic spikes on Election Day, or for those addressing audiences living several timezones away (like News.com.au or Indian Express), the day after. Follow-up coverage on Thursday saw at least one major site post a new record number of page views.

I’m happy to say that we coped admirably. Independent monitoring by Pingdom shows 100% uptime for the week, and barely a blip in terms of average response time.

Part of VIP’s appeal is that we ensure you’re ready for high-traffic events like this: the ones you can predict, and the ones you can’t. With so many sites, from so many places, covering so many subjects, we simply have to be prepared for the most extreme scenarios.

VIP clients share the same high-capacity global infrastructure as the WordPress.com platform, consistently ranked as one of the web’s busiest properties. And our engineers work with each site’s developers to ensure their code is as efficient and performant as possible.

Clients are often anxious about traffic spikes. But really, they should be something to look forward to: these are the times your website truly earns its stripes.

A vibrant Fourth Estate will be more important than ever in the next few years — and it will need to be fast and performant for readers around the world. If VIP can deliver for FiveThirtyEight, the national focal point on one of the most dramatic election nights in history, you can be confident we can deliver on your big night too. We dare you to put us to the test.

The Dream Internship: Work at Automattic (Spring 2017 and Beyond)

Please find our latest post on the internship here: https://vip.wordpress.com/2017/04/18/the-dream-internship-work-at-automattic-summer-2017-and-beyond/

Our company Automattic — which runs WordPress.com, Akismet, VaultPress, and many other services — is hiring interns, specifically to work with us on the WordPress.com VIP team.

WordPress.com VIP provides hosting and support for high-profile, high-traffic WordPress sites, including Time.com, People.com, FiveThirtyEight.com, qz.com, internet.org, TheSun.co.uk, NYPost.com, and more.

We’re looking for interns to join us to work on platform development and testing or client-facing development and support. These paid internships run 12 weeks and we are flexible on the exact dates.

Where will you be working? Anywhere! We are a distributed company. We’re happy if you work from wherever you’re happy — as long as you have a good internet connection.

What will you work on?
We currently have one internship role available:

  • The support-focused internship will focus on things such as working on core WordPress.com features and development, debugging client code, and making performance and security improvements to the WordPress.com VIP platform. We’re hiring for the spring and summer for this role.

In either case, your work will be tailored to where your own personal interests lie.

Interested? Complete your application by filling in the form below. In the space provided, introduce yourself and why you’d like to be an intern with our team. Be clear about what you’ve done and what you’re interested in working on. Feel free to use as much space as you need in the form and be sure to give us more information by including links to your online profiles as appropriate.

We’re serious about increasing diversity in the tech industry. We encourage applications from women, people of color, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ community, and other communities traditionally underrepresented in this field.

Send in your internship application by December 15th for the spring support-focused internship or January 15th for the summer internships. If your application sounds interesting, we’ll schedule an interview (usually written / text chat, since we communicate a lot via text) as the next step. Good luck and thanks for your interest!

Alexis Kulash is a current VIP Intern. During her internship, she has worked on transitioning VIP sites to PHP 7 and prevented potential security and performance problems on some of the biggest sites in the world.

WordPress.com VIP ‘fastest by a wide margin’ in study of enterprise WordPress hosting

We were delighted to learn last week that VIP had ‘easily’ achieved Top Tier status in an authoritative study of enterprise-level WordPress hosting.

Review Signal’s analysis is recognized as the benchmark for comparing the performance and resilience of specialist WordPress hosts. This is the company’s fourth review of the market, but the first time they have looked specifically at enterprise offerings; and it’s the first time VIP has been assessed.

VIP put on an ‘amazing show’, according to Review Signal’s Kevin Ohashi; ‘they blew my (test setup) out of the water.’

“VIP put up the absolute fastest scores that I’ve seen by a wide margin, roughly triple the speed of the next fastest”
– Kevin Ohashi

We were the clear winner in tests conducted using Review Signal’s open-source WPPerformanceTester tool. ‘VIP put up the absolute fastest scores in the PHP bench that I’ve seen by a wide margin,’ Kevin writes: ‘roughly triple the speed of the next fastest.’

In a load test simulating up to 10,000 concurrent users, VIP’s average response time was ‘impressively flat and the fastest of any company by a good bit’. VIP came out top for almost half the global locations used in tests via WebPagetest.org, including Sydney, Japan, Singapore, South Africa, and LA.

We were delighted to see our Automattic siblings in Pressable also achieving Top Tier status, along with Kinsta, Pagely, Pantheon and Pressidium. It’s great to see an ecosystem of managed hosting solutions growing around WordPress, allowing publishers and enterprises to choose the solution that’s right for their needs.

We know how much performance matters at enterprise level – for consumers, content creators and search engines alike.

Review Signal’s findings confirm our status as the leading solution for enterprises seeking the fastest and most reliable hosting for their WordPress sites.