There is at least one place in Boston where you can immerse yourself in both journalistic terminology and engineering language—the Hacks/Hackers meetups. That is exactly what a roomful of new media enthusiasts did this week at the Boston Globe.
On Feb. 22, Hacks/Hackers Boston held a panel to discuss the future of news sites with some of the people building cutting-edge technologies. The panel participants included Dries Buytaert, Drupal’s creator, Adam Gaffin, founder of Universal Hub, Andrew Phelps, reporter for WBUR, and Austin Gardner-Smith of Pinyadda. Muckrock.com’s Michael Morisy was moderating the session.
Content Management Systems (CMS) and their evolution was the first topic the four entrepreneurs and journalists tackled. What has changed about CMS and how can it better address our needs? Gardner-Smith pointed out the importance of better distribution and integration of more social features in the content creation process. The panelists spent some time discussing the current CMS inability to manage ad-hoc content production before Buytaert took the conversation to another realm: mobile. He emphasized the importance of building your site for different viewing experiences. “If I was to start Drupal from scratch,” Dries said, “I would built it for mobile first.”
The question of mobile was on the table for a big portion of the panel. The consensus among the publishers was that one needs to first examine how viewers were accessing the content. While WBUR is making strides on the path of mobile content optimization, for instance, it is very aware of the fact that their audience is still very much visiting the site in the traditional way. The majority of WBUR’s traffic, Phelps noted, was not coming from smart phones and iPads yet. Their visitors were predominantly using computers and that was the reading experience WBUR would focus on improving.
Once that idea of how people access your content was brought up, it was hard not to mention one of the biggest referral sources for news organizations, Facebook. The discussion quickly jumped to social media and its usage not only for distribution purposes, but also for generating a conversation. The panelists agreed that Twitter was not great for threaded conversations between more than two people. Many mentions, retweets and no hashtags make it hard to follow an ever-evolving story. On Facebook, Phelps said, a story sticks around longer. If people “like” it or comment on it, it will surface to the top of the news feed and become relevant again. “People are likely to participate if they see someone else is participating,” he said. In that way, Facebook has become their preferred platform for building a dialogue based on shared stories.
Clearly, the panel tackled a range of topics, starting with CMS and shifting to mobile optimization and social media. But ultimately, there was one overarching question the panelists were trying to wrap their minds around. “It is all about keeping up with the Web,” Buytaert said. “And the Web as we know it is exploding.”