Techmeme finally posts stories to its Facebook page
You may not know this, but Techmeme's had a Facebook page since 2007. And it has garnered many "likes", including Mark Zuckerberg's. (You may have heard of him!) Unfortunately, and perversely, Techmeme never actually posted anything to this page during all those years.Happily, this all changes today, as we've begun posting a selection of Techmeme stories to our Facebook page. Unlike our Twitter feed, our Facebook page won't include every headline we feature, just the biggest stories of the day, as they happen. So rest assured, Techmeme won't crowd out your other friends (or their babies!)
This will serve you in the following ways. (1.) "Like" our page, and Techmeme stories will appear right in your News Feed. (Go ahead, 'like' us right here: ). Thanks! (2.) "Like" individual stories that you care about, and Facebook may boost the story in your friends' News Feeds.
So we're hoping you find much to "like" here, except for the bad pun with which we now conclude this post.
Techmeme is now writing its own headlines
Right now there's a headline on Techmeme written by our news editors. Our more familiar readers know why this is noteworthy: from the time we launched in 2005 until yesterday, our content consisted entirely of quotes. That is, all headlines and summaries were excerpted from publishers' sites, a style of aggregation Google News made familiar in 2002.
This "quotes only" approach was the only way to go when we had no editors, and stories were selected automatically. But since 2008, as we've blended in human curation with our automation, and our editorial staff has grown (Techmeme has 6 editors now, Mediagazer has 3), this approach changed from a necessity to choice. And over time, we became convinced only quoting was the wrong choice.
Why will writing some headlines in-house make Techmeme better?
The headline styles for many of the stories you find on the web don't work very well on Techmeme. Our home page is a dense list of news links functioning as an executive summary of the latest in tech. Readers want to spend five minutes (or one minute) scanning the site to catch up. They only want to click on the few headlines they're sure they want to read in more detail. So clicking on stories merely to discover what they're about is a frustrating chore. Unlike most other news sites, we'd rather save our readers clicks than force them through a maze of pages to catch up on news. Techmeme therefore values headlines rich on specifics: headlines with names, numbers, and active verbs. Headlines that function as abstracts.
Unfortunately for us, publishers understandably write headlines suiting their own needs, and not necessarily ours. The reasons for this are numerous, and varied:
- News organizations that cover more than just tech
often favor headlines
describing the story in the most general terms
that the widest possible audience can appreciate
at some level.
So headlines will omit references to
specific companies, people, and technologies
unknown to most of their readers
yet familiar to Techmeme readers.
As our coverage increasingly relies
on sources like The Guardian and Washington Post
(for reports on government surveillance and other policy matters),
this has become a significant issue for Techmeme.
- In some news organizations, particularly the older ones, too often the editor tasked with writing the headline doesn't appreciate the most newsworthy part of the story, "burying the lede" with a headline oblivious to the news.
- With few exceptions, companies announcing bad news will omit specifics at the headline level. For example, a post disclosing the theft of a million user passwords will usually carry a headline such as "Important Security Update".
- Some publishers value clicks from Twitter or Facebook over readers' time, writing (and tweeting) headlines that deliberately omit key details, requiring readers to click to get the most basic summary.
- Even worse, some misleadingly inflate the importance of the news in the headline, goosing clickthroughs, but setting up discerning readers for disappointment.
- Bloggers with a devoted readership who can count on readers consuming the bulk of their output often enjoy writing more cerebral, enigmatic titles with meanings that fully reveal themselves only after reading the story.
- Some bloggers consider composing a headline a mere chore, dashing out a few words thoughtlessly, and moving on.
As a result, Techmeme is often forced either to post a story with a nebulous headline, wait for a publication that rewrites the news with a clear headline (leading many publishers to wonder why) or pass on stories altogether. Since all of these choices are far from ideal, we've now resolved to produce Techmeme-optimized titles "in-house".
How will this work?
The process is simple. Our editors will compose headlines for some (but not most) of the stories posted to Techmeme. In most cases, our headline will appear when the link first hits Techmeme, although at times it will make its first appearance minutes or hours later. While our headline will be hyperlinked and in bold, the headline the publisher used will still appear for the stories in our "Top News" area with body excerpts, following the headline we compose. (Internally, we've called this feature pretitling, because it's effectively "retitling" by prepending the headline we want.)
For the stories we do headline, ours will be the headline that tweets out at @Techmeme. With fewer vague teasers and more descriptive summaries, our Twitter account will come closer to providing the technology industry's most detail-rich news wire. (By the way, follow us now by clicking this button: Hey, thank you!)
Isn't this a bad thing for readers? Or bad for Techmeme?
No, it's good for both. But since we expect some may be wary, the following concerns are addressed preemptively here:
- You're changing the words that publishers use, and that's wrong.
It's adding to the words publishers use,
and it's long been an accepted practice
on aggregation sites like Drudge Report,
Arts & Letters Daily, and many more.
And it's essentially what everyone does
when linking to stories with their own commentary on Twitter and Facebook.
Moreover, as Google has discovered,
the legal environment in certain places (e.g. Germany, France, and Belgium)
is in fact hostile to news sites composed solely of snippets.
In those countries, people are arguing that
only quoting is wrong, and for now, winning in court.
- This makes Techmeme biased and that's bad. Though it's fine to demand a basic level of accuracy and fairness from news organizations, it's hopeless, and even meaningless, to demand news coverage without bias, without a slant. All news is laden with opinion. The very act of publishing a story conveys the bold assertion: this is noteworthy. Numerous other beliefs and assumptions underpin the ideas that flow through any news story. That's why even when Techmeme selected headlines solely on algorithms, I claimed it was biased. And the introduction of human editors since that time has only increased the ways our perspective on events shapes our coverage. While most of the headlines we write will elevate details present in the story, we may on occasion even use a headline we write to challenge, correct, refute, or even undermine what we're linking to, if we feel that gets our readers closer to the truth as we see it. - Techmeme will screw up and get something wrong in these headlines. This is true. Errors or oversights will creep into the headlines we add (hopefully only rarely), but this isn't enough of a reason not to write them. - This will complicate how readers perceive Techmeme. This is somewhat true, more so for publishers, but only to a very limited extent for readers. The basic reader behavior of scanning headlines and clicking on the interesting ones remains unchanged. And to the extent that enigmatic headlines will become rarer, the reduction in unnecessary clicking will in fact simplify reading.
What's next? Will Techmeme start reporting stories?
The next step is to extend this practice to Mediagazer, Techmeme's sister site covering media industry news, which we expect to happen shortly.
What else is planned? One reaction to the above news we expect to hear is: "If you're writing headlines now, why not write entire stories?" But we have no plans to publish original news stories. Assembling a good team of tech reporters is especially difficult in 2013, and would be too much of a distraction for us. Moreover, we like what we are, and don't want to complicate this for readers. The overabundance of technology news presents a problem, and Techmeme strives to be the solution. We're about showing the best in technology news from all around the web, not showing "some of their stuff, some of our stuff".
Instead, we just plan to improve the way we uncover newsworthy content. Recently, for instance, our methods for surfacing interesting news commentary on Twitter have improved markedly. Good tweets now appear on Techmeme at a high enough volume that we even started notifying Twitter users of their inclusion by programmatically favoriting tweets appearing on Techmeme from our Twitter account. And we hope to accomplish a whole lot more in this area in the months ahead. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy the new and improved Techmeme (Now With Original Headlines!), and thank you for reading Techmeme, and (wow!) for reaching to the end of this 1,400 word post.
Techmeme's biggest (i.e. tallest) stories of 2012
Now that we've examined the year's trending terms, our final retrospectacular tour of 2012 examines the stories themselves. On Techmeme, the biggest stories usually become the tallest stories as different angles of reporting and analysis pile up, creating story clusters that can run several screen lengths. Last year we examined the tallest clusters to review 2011, and we'll now cement this exercise as a tradition by doing the same for 2012.
The results: The table below lists the year's story clusters with 10 or more headlines, ordered by number of headlines. It's important to understand that each headline shown here is just the one that happened to be the leading headline when its cluster reached the maximal size. So these headlines don't always indicate the most representative story of the bunch, the best summary, or the most cited story. Clicking through to peruse the full cluster is the best way to understand the coverage each link represents.
What do we see? The stories dominating this list are mainly announcements, often product introductions, from the industry's largest firms, often Apple. Apple's pervasiveness here should come as no surprise; its products affect nearly the entire industry in a profound way. Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Apple account for most of the stories on this list.
OK, but what's REALLY going on? While you could interpret this list ten different ways, one point really stands out to me. Never before in this industry have so many of the biggest news stories seemed part of a unified narrative, in which the latest development illuminates and extends our understanding of the previous one. This is, of course, an outgrowth of the megatrend noted in recent years that finds each of the tech titans engaged in a single great conflagration. One Apple keynote can signal increased competition with four other tech giants across a half dozen product fronts, while also revealing new forms of cooperation and integration. If it's a game of chess, where the pieces are hardware, operating systems, app stores, social graphs, developers, and search, then it's a 5-way game of chess. Or maybe a 4-way or 7-way game.
Whatever the operative game analogy may be, we appreciate that you've come to Techmeme for the play-by-play. We've long taken an industry-wide view, from the titans to the startups, plus the ecosystem and rules that bind them all. And we'll be very happy to serve you all the more in 2013. Happy New Year!
Which headline terms trended in 2012 on Techmeme?
To determine that, we first had to compute the year's most frequent terms by absolute percentage of their appearance in Techmeme headlines, and we placed the top 200 such terms in the first table below. We already looked at the first 20 earlier this week and observed a few things, but the full 200 now appear here. A lot more can be said about this much longer list, but we'll leave that to other folks as we move on to the trending terms.
To find which terms trended, we computed a similar "most frequent terms" list for 2011, and then found the terms gaining or losing the most in frequency between 2011 and 2012, weighing for both absolute and relative changes. Results appear as soon as you scroll past the first big table.
Trending terms and how we got them (it's a little complicated): Trending terms are divided into two tables, one for those trending up, and one for down. Changes between 2011 and 2012 are represented by two numbers here. The first, Absolute Gain, is formed by subtracting 2011 frequencies from the 2012 frequences (remember, the ones appearing in the top table). The second, Relative Gain, divides the Absolute Gain by the corresponding 2011 frequency. Since these tables aren't ordered strictly by Relative Gain (or Loss) and Absolute Gain (or Loss), where does Rank come from? In short, by ordering terms according to a quantity combining both Relative and Absolute. This follows from confronting the following dilemma: what's more "trending", a term mentioned 10 times in 2012 instead of once in 2011 (a 10X gain, but only +9 occurrences), or a term mentioned 1000 times in 2012 instead of 500 in 2011 (a 2x gain, but +500 occurrences)? To account for both forms of "trendingness", we multiply Absolute Gain by a function mapping Relative Gain to a 0-1 scale, and then sort, deriving the Rank you see here.
What do 2012 Trending Up tell us?
There's a lot to mine from this information, but I'll make a few easy points:
• 8, surface, windows, and microsoft: Microsoft's back…in the news, as launches around Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and Surface propelled these terms into headlines far more than before.
• facebook: This shows what a long-awaited and much-watched IPO can do to a news topic, especially if the aftermath is bumpier than anyone predicted.
• instagram: What produces more media coverage than massive adoption (2011)? Massive adoption plus a pivotal acquisition plus a TOS brouhaha (2012).
• mini: Though ipad didn't trend up much, mini sure did.
• megaupload, dotcom, and kim: For companies pressing against legal boundaries, quiet years (2011) can be much happier than the years in which you get a ton of press (2012).
• patent: It'll disappoint many but surprise few across the tech industry that occurrences of "patent" were up 39% in Techmeme headlines.
In 2012 Trending Down we're presented with both the obvious and the surprising.
• steve and jobs: When Steve Jobs died last year, he loomed larger than ever in news for the remainder of the year. But then the inevitable second wave of his passing arrived, as we moved on to other topics. (But not completely.)
• iphone: An unexpected turn for some may be iPhone's trending down as a headline term, even as iPhone adoption continued to balloon internationally as well as in the U.S. in 2012. But 2011 was in fact a bigger news year for iPhones, as it saw two major launches in the U.S. (Verizon and the 4S), and moreover many of the details surrounding the iPhone 5 were uncovered as early as 2011.
• hp: 2011 was a bigger news year for HP, when they last switched CEOs, and when they dithered on whether they'd abandon their PC business (no) and webOS (yes). 2012 had surprises, but fewer.
While a lot more could be said here, I believe a post containing large tables full of words should take it easy with the explanatory prose, so I hope you've enjoyed these lists, and will perhaps produce your own insights from the preceding data!