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Flavours of life & the changing face of digital consumption
Sanshey Biswas  29th Aug 2015

A screenshot of the interactive What is Code article on Bloomberg.

he way we consume information today is undergoing rapid transformation. All around us are services that re-compose content to make it more accessible and digestible. Of course, this also ends up making everything dry and not very exciting unless the reader already relates to or is interested in subject, sort of like how the trailer of a movie can only say so much about the film.

There was a time when bookmarks on your browser were the easiest way to get to your favourite portals. Now, though, with the radical surge of quantity of content, it's become a task even keeping all those bookmarks in order. They used to be a convenient way to take us back to the places on the web we had pinned. They were unbiased and had to be built and be updated regularly. Moreover, you'd have to make the effort of visiting the websites regularly to keep the list updated, clean and organised. It's not a direct replacement, but Inshorts (formerly Newsinshorts) is the new aggregator that puts together a list of article-concentrates — 60-word summaries of articles from publications — based on the topics you show an interest in while setting up the app. You can also read the entire article that the extract is made from with a single swipe.

Additionally, Facebook has already made it easier to access content by tying up with publications like The New York Times and BuzzFeed, who will use the platform provided by the social network to push their content. Besides that, the social network also plans to ensure that you are up to date with the latest goings-on around the world through alerts on the new breaking news service in the works, in an attempt to prise away that section of the market from Twitter. Medium, on the other hand, has always been an open slate, with anyone and everyone — including even the White House — using it to post updates and reach out to people, functioning not as a blog or network but more a collection of mini-agencies.

There's one service that somewhat supersedes these digital behemoths. It's Firechat, which has a technological edge over all these other sites as the app works without any network, using cell-phone antennas to create a mesh network of its own. They even managed to strike a deal with The Inquirer group to cover the much-hyped fight between Floyd Mayweather, Jr and Manny Pacquiao, billed as boxing's "Fight of the Century". Further, Firechat serves as a platform for people to follow live interviews with artists during a music festival. But most importantly, if disaster strikes, like, say, a typhoon, earthquake or even a solar flare, and it knocks out all communication networks, Firechat will still be around, helping people get news updates and keep in touch with family and friends.

Facebook has made it easier to access content by tying up with publications like The New York Times and BuzzFeed, with a new breaking news service in the works.

These services suit most networks and publications. But then you have an article like What is Code, where the Bloomberg site turned 38,000 words into an interactive journey assisted by bots that appear after every few words or paragraphs. The article wouldn't have been the same without the interactive design and layout, making the transition smooth and the process less monotonous — it is, after all, an article about writing code. This was possible only because they hosted the piece on their own site. An aggregator site could try and carry these elements over to their platform — which articles on Medium do boast of every now and then — but that doesn't always work out.

The Verge, a subsidiary of Vox, has adopted an interesting approach by sticking to stories that have an underlying tone of technology in them, allowing them to pursue subjects beyond tech, yet still retaining their status as a geek's paradise.

The size of the target audience, more than the medium, seems to be a big factor in the kind of website you'd like to be. The two contrasts that personify mass engagement vs loyalty readership — in terms of audience reach maximisation — are BuzzFeed and The Awl (run by ex-BuzzFeed employees). While the former aims to capture eyeballs of all readers, the latter wants to stick to its core user-base that will try and make sense of everything The Awl has to say. It's a bold approach that they've gone for in putting together their content, as the people working at The Awl aren't just writing but also simultaneously working on podcasts, analytics and a million other activities. That makes it difficult for them to fit into a publishing or aggregating platform — such as Inshorts — that tries to sell the user an article based on a few lines and an image. Or on a daily encyclopaedia that puts together concentrates of articles often voiding them of flavour and intent. But for publications to appeal to a larger audience, it also becomes a necessary evil, where finding the right balance is a tricky thing.

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