E-mail newsletters are so hot right now.
Some of the best known are by Ann Friedman, Alexis Madrigal, Dan Hon and Rusty Foster. There’s a web ring for e-mail newsletters now, but really the best newsletters are secret. The authors encourage readers to share the subscribe link with other people who might be interested, but request that no one share the subscribe link on social media or the open web, creating a sort of darknet of semi-underground dispatches.
But it’s more than just individual bloggers. Two or three years ago every site on the web was doing all it could to
trick coax readers into “liking” them on Facebook. Today much of that focus has shifted towards getting readers to sign-up for an e-mail subscription. Just look at the prime screen real estate e-mail subscription forms are given at Mashable, The Verge and, of course, TechCrunch. Upworthy — the most “social media native” publication to date — goes so far as to put a huge sign-up form below the first paragraph of every story:
Quartz has a much loved daily e-mail blast (though the sign-up form is oddly buried in a pull-down menu) and sports news company The Slurve is going so far as to build an entire business off its newsletter. And it’s not quite the same as a digital newsletter, but the likes of Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Medium are all sending daily or weekly activity summaries to give people an overview of what’s been going on on those sites, and try to entire people to interact. Just last week Madrigal declared that e-mail is still the best thing on the internet.
So why all this effort to herd readers into a medium that is supposed to be dying? And why are we, as readers, so willing to invite even more e-mail into our lives?
Joanna McNeil has suggested that e-mail newsletters give writers a greater sense of intimacy with their readers than today’s social media services, while Rebecca Greenfield suggested the end of Google Reader as a driving factor in sending more people into the arms of e-mail. I think both of these are part of something bigger: sending e-mail gives publishers a greater sense of control over how they reach their audiences.
Facebook is sending less traffic these days thanks to its algorithmic tweaks and the sheer number of things competing for attention in your feed. Twitter isn’t filtering content à la Facebook yet, but many fear it’s only a matter of time. And that’s to say nothing of the other problems of not having much control over the platform on which you share information. You could be kicked off the site for violating its terms of service. A site could do a massive redesign that renders your work moot, or pivot into a different market. Or, like Google Reader, it could just disappear.
E-mail gives publishers a bit more control. Yes, your newsletter could end up in a spam trap, and things like Google’s Priority Inbox and its smart labels do affect where your e-mails will be seen. But if you’re sending mail that your readers legitimately signed up for, it will probably find its way to them somehow, and that’s more than you can say for a Facebook status update these days.
And you can own your own mailing list, more so than you can own just about anything else online. Governments can seize your domain name. If you forget to renew it, some squatter will snap it up and try to sell it back to you for $1,000. But your mailing list is yours. Even if you’re using a service like Mailchimp or TinyLetter, you can back-up your mailing list and use it with another program. And if you use a self-hosted mailing list like Sendy, Dada Mail or the Newsletter plug-in for WordPress, you have even more direct ownership over your lists.
Author Warren Ellis, who has been doing the e-mail newsletter thing for years, has written that his mailing list has a 5,000 out of 6,865 open rate. That’s exceptional, but shows how powerful email can be. The newsletter for my personal blog has only around 320 subscribers. But according to Mailchimp, each e-mail has about a 20 percent open rate. That’s about 64 readers per e-mail. I have over 7,000 Twitter followers, but a very successful post will tend only to be clicked by about 20 people, according to Bitly, which works out to less than 1 percent of my followers.
So while it might be harder to get people to fork over their e-mail addresses than it is to get them to like or follow something, once you do, they’re much more likely to actually pay attention, and you can reach more people in the long run. Marketing types have known this for a long time, hence all the get-rich-quick spammer websites that try to entice you into swapping your e-mail address for a free e-book.
E-mail is great way to reach mobile readers without having to talk them into installing yet another pointless app. It works on everything from tablets to feature phones to Commodore 64s with dial-up Internet access.
That helps explain why publishers want us to sign-up for newsletters, but why do readers actually do it? I think a big part of it is social media fatigue. Other things try to replace e-mail, only to become just as cluttered, creating a bunch of separate cluttered messes to deal with. My inbox is a nightmarish hellscape. But I’d rather visit one nightmarish hellscape per day than a dozen. And while there’s no way I would want to get an e-mail newsletter from every single person I follow on Twitter, those e-mail digests of what’s been happening on Twitter are pretty handy. From a reader’s standpoint, I’d often rather just get a daily or weekly digest than try to follow yet another Twitter account or RSS feed.
For years, those of us who have advocated the indie or federated web have called for social networks to be more like e-mail, but it turns out e-mail itself is a pretty good social media platform. And while getting people to sign up for a Diaspora or Identica account was always a tough sell, just about everyone already has an e-mail address. And e-mail has social features like “reply” and “share” (aka “forward”) baked right in.
But beyond all that, it feels like an admission that the Internet went horribly wrong somewhere along the way. Google+, Tumblr and Facebook Groups felt like a tacit admission that the web had taken a wrong turn somewhere around Friendster and was finding its way back to LiveJournal. But now with the rise of newsletters and Snapchat and “right to forget” legislation, it feels like we’re going back even further, perhaps admitting that this whole web thing, with its search engines and caches and screenshots, were perhaps a bad idea to begin with and it’s not to rip it up and start again from e-mail on up.
IMAGE BY Shutterstock USER Mr. Aesthetics (IMAGE HAS BEEN MODIFIED)
View original post here: Why Everyone Is Obsessed With E-Mail Newsletters Right Now
This post originally appeared on the Buffer blog.
Funny, we’ve had the Facebook Like button along the side of every Buffer blog post for the past several years. And I don’t think I’ve ever clicked it.
I’ve hoped that others would, of course. I hope they click all the share buttons. But until now, I’ve never known what that experience was like for the end-user.
What’s it like to actually share a story to Facebook? And how can I make it a better experience?
We talk a lot about reversing the decline in organic Facebook reach and succeeding with Facebook marketing. Maybe we’ve been overlooking a quick win right under our noses. The Facebook share button could be a huge opportunity todelight a reader with a seamless sharing experience, one in which you can control the look, feel, and message of what gets shared.
Come along to see what I learned (and what I’ve fixed) when I clicked on my own Facebook share button.
Each post on the Buffer blog has social share buttons that sit along the left side of the post (via the Digg Digg plugin for WordPress). Share button No. 3 is the Facebook like button.
Now for the moment of truth. What happens when someone clicks the Facebook Like button on a Buffer blog post? Drumroll please …
Not a whole lot.
In fact, to the naked eye, nothing happened whatsoever beyond the share number going up by one and the Like button changing to a checkmark.
Let’s hop over to my Facebook page. There are no new updates in my News Feed to tell others that I liked this awesome blogpost. No notifications, no alerts.
To find any evidence that I clicked at all, one would have to scroll 50 percent of the way down the page, past my About section, my photos, my friends, my places, my music, my movies, my TV shows, my books, and my groups, all the way to the very last item in the left sidebar: Recent Activity.
Phew. That’s a long ways down.
It’s worth noting that the Facebook Like experience on your blog might be different than it is on Buffer’s. When I ran the Like experiment by clicking on buttons elsewhere, a share box popped up after I clicked “Like.” You can see this in action at the KISSmetrics blog, for instance. Point being: Test your Like button on your own blog to see what happens.)
OK, new strategy.
How about if we change the Facebook Like button to a Facebook Share button? (Fortunately, there’s an easy setting inside of the Digg Digg plugin to do just that.)
Now that we’ve got the Share button live on the blogpost, what happens when we click it?
Voila! A Facebook Share box arrives.
This is likely the box that bloggers expect to show up when someone clicks a Facebook button. Readers get to choose where the message is shared, what they want to say about it, and which picture to use as the thumbnail.
After all these options are chosen, the post will show up at the very top of the News Feed on a profile page, and in the News Feeds of all one’s friends (depending on the Facebook algorithm, of course).
Takeaway: “Liking” and “Sharing” on Facebook are two totally different experiences.
Let’s continue our Goldilocks trip through Facebook sharing with the most native of share options: Posting a link directly via your Facebook page.
Assuming that there were no Facebook share buttons anywhere on a page and that you really wanted to pass the page along to your Facebook friends, what would you do? You’d grab the URL, head to facebook.com, and share the link yourself.
Here’s what that looks like when I share a blogpost directly on Facebook.
The experience is almost exactly the same as it was for the Facebook Share button. You get to choose who sees your update, what you say about it, and which picture is used as the thumbnail. Here’s the finished product as it appears in my News Feed.
After reading this far, you may have already chosen your preferred style of Facebook button. Your preference probably has to do with what you hope to gain from your social share buttons, and it’s important to note that there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to liking vs. sharing. Each has its own virtues.
The Like button is good for social proof.
There is power in seeing 600+ Facebook Likes on an article you wrote. The psychological explanation behind this is wisdom of the crowds, where large groups of people approving a certain something (a blogpost, for instance) motivates others to do the same.
There may even be a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out), an anxiety from new readers that they need to read this article to catch up with what everyone else has found so great.
The Like button is almost entirely frictionless.
Did you notice how little effort it took for me to complete the process of Liking a blogpost? If you want to make the experience as absolutely easy as possible for your readers, it doesn’t get much easier than the one-click Like button. There’s no messages to create, no networks to navigate. It’s just a simple, easy click.
The Share button gets your content maximum exposure.
If you want your story to be seen in more News Feeds, then go with the Share button. Liking a post keeps the post relatively hidden on one’s profile. Sharing a post puts the content front-and-center. (And the rest is up to Facebook’s algorithm to disperse.)
Smashing Magazine ran an interesting experiment on their popular blog, removing all Facebook buttons and trusting readers to share posts on Facebook individually when they found them worth sharing. The results:
The Share button lets you customize the visuals and message.
Not only will Sharing a post put your content in front of more eyes, your content can look by-and-large how you want it. You can customize the title and description that Facebook grabs as well as the series of pictures that it uses to pull thumbnails.
Next: Here’s how the Facebook customization process works in detail
OK, here’s the fun part.
You can make your post a Facebook work-of-art with just a few simple tweaks to the code and the images on your page.
Facebook sharing 101: A primer on “og” tags
The engineering behind this customization comes from Facebook’s Open Graph, a system that lets third-party websites (like your blog) speak Facebook’s language when the two communicate. Facebook uses Open Graph functionality on its own network, and outside websites that do the same can create Facebook-optimized updates in a snap.
(Open Graph elements are used by other social networks, too, to customize the sharing that happens there.)
These Open Graph elements are represented in the code with “og” tags (“og” stands for, you guessed it, Open Graph). There are three main tags that deal with the look of a Facebook update.
We’ve found that the easiest way to implement Open Graph code on our blogposts is to use an all-in-one WordPress plugin like WordPress SEO by Yoast that handles the Open Graph elements automatically. In our experience, it works almost perfectly—with the exception of images. I’ll tackle that one below.
How to check the “og” tags on your blogpost
Before we begin, it might be handy to know if you already have these Open Graph tags in place. To quickly find out, you can inspect the code of your page to see what’s going on behind the scenes.
In your browser, right-click anywhere on the page and select “Inspect Element.”
Then look in the
section near the top of your HTML code. Inside the should be some tags that begin with “
You can also check the tags on your content by using Facebook’s Open Graph Object Debugger. This free tool will analyze your page and show you what data Facebook will pull (as well as any errors). Also, if you’re ever in need of resetting the cache for your page, plugging the URL into the Debugger tool tells Facebook to go check your page again for updates.
How to customize the title on your Facebook article
To create a specific title for your Facebook shares, use the og:title tag.
Best practice here is to keep the title to no more than 90 characters. If your title is longer than 100 characters, Facebook will cut it off at 88.
You can think of this og:title like you would the SEO title for your post. In fact, if an og:title isn’t present, Facebook will grab the SEO title instead. All the best headline-writing advice applies here, as you’ll want to make the most of the bigger, bolder fonts that Facebook uses in article titles.
As an example of what this og:title might look like, here is the code from the blogpost featured in the screengrab above.
If you click over to the post itself, you’ll notice that the actual headline used on the post is “What Is a Community Champion? Inside the World of Buffer’s Community Builder.” We went with a slightly shorter version for the og:title tag for Facebook.
How to customize the description on your Facebook article
To create a specific description for your Facebook shares, use the og:description tag.
Much like the meta description for your page, this sentence or two should serve as a good introduction to your content. Make it exciting and intriguing—and no need to fill it up with too many keywords because there is no SEO factor here.
Make the first few words count. In the example above, Facebook only revealed 79 characters before cutting off the description. In other cases, you might see up to 200. To play it safe, pack your description with impactful words first.
Here’s an example of what the description tag might look like:
How to customize the images on your Facebook article
Here’s where things get a little tricky for us.
If you have all your “og” code in place for your piece of content and your content happens to contain a lot of images that are all tagged og:image, what might you expect to happen?
I expected each image to be available as a thumbnail option. I was wrong. There are only three.
I tested this with the Social Media Strategy post on Buffer, as well as with some blogposts from other sites like KISSmetrics, Quick Sprout, and Hubspot. The results: There are always only three images to choose from, despite the code containing more than three og:image tags.
So which ones does Facebook choose?
In my limited experimentation, I believe Facebook chooses your three largest images.
That’s a good bit of information to know. In my case, most of my largest images are screengrabs, not the custom images I create for each post. It seems that the images I make in Canva and other custom apps are being outshone by some ultra-specific screenshots. Definitely not ideal.
So what are we to do?
Well, there are a couple options.
The latter option may require a unique plugin that lets you manually change the og:image tags for each piece of content. There are a few plugins out there—like WP Open Graph and the official Facebook plugin—that let you do this fairly easily.
And whatever method you choose to use, you’ll likely want to create some images that are meant to look good on Facebook. I’ll leave the design part up to you, but I can answer the question, “What image size is best?”
Well, in a perfect world, our Facebook shares would look like this:
Instead of this:
We want the large, banner photo because it’s those kinds of photos that seem to instinctually draw the most interest and engagement.
To get this banner photo, Facebook recommends that images be at least 1,200 pixels wide by 630 pixels tall. This aspect ratio works out to 1.91:1. You can go as small as 600 pixels wide by 315 pixels tall and still have it appear as a featured image, but in general, you’ll want to get your pics as big as you can so they look good on high-definition monitors.
The takeaway: Create big, beautiful images at an ideal aspect ratio, and make sure they’re bigger than the rest of the images in your post. This is your best bet for getting the Facebook share style you crave.
Have you clicked your own Share and Like buttons?
I was really interested to learn the experience of sharing from the Buffer blog. It was not at all what I expected and a bit of a challenge to get it all working perfectly. In the end, changing the way I go about creating my images and being purposeful with how we set up our share buttons were big improvements for the shareability of our blog posts.
Feel free to share this post to see some of the changes in action!
Which of these tips might you try out on your content? Have you been using Open Graph tags for your blogposts and Web pages? I’d be keen to hear your experience in the comments!
Joe Hyrkin is the CEO of Issuu, the world’s fastest growing digital publishing platform.
The rumors of the publishing industry’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Long-form content is experiencing a resurgence thanks to new technologies that create new monetization opportunities for the publishers.
The ongoing and recently resurfaced, “Amazon versus the publishing industry” debate coupled with the recent news of Time Inc. going public seemly highlighted one thing: the publishing industry is dying. Common belief is that consumers prefer shiny screens to glossy magazines, tweets to tomes and publishers don’t understand how to embrace new technology to meet new consumer demands, both long and short.
Don’t believe the hype. That’s not the case, but the publishing industry is experiencing an evolution.
The changes in the publishing industry are being driven by two factors: one, the prevalence of new technology devices that allow us to consume more content on-the-go (like tablets, e-readers and phablets); and two, the resurgence of long-form content.
Let’s look at the bourgeoning importance of the latter. We’ve seen more and more that consumers don’t just like to nibble on content; they still enjoy full meals.
Twitter and Facebook are two massive and powerful media platforms that are enabling the discovery of long-form content. On those platforms, we often scan for news and interesting stories. But once we find an article or piece of interesting content, we dive deep into a publisher’s content, which could be from the likes of TIME, V Magazine or even a specialty surfing mag, smorgasboarder, with the best-kept surfing secrets.
So, instead of technology supplanting long-form content, consumers’ social feeds are like sample platters that offer a taste of something enticing, perhaps a short blast about a reader’s favorite surfer or a new product.
In the world of tweets, hashtags and Instagram, it’s easy to think attention spans are only shrinking and that consumers are only interested in reading the news or article summaries told in 140 characters. Instead, social is fueling long-form content discovery.
In addition to these new consumer habits, there is more evidence of the interest in long-form content. We’ve seen more digital magazines comes from the media companies themselves.
Earlier this year Yahoo launched Yahoo Digital Magazine and recently announced that its food and technology magazines had already attracted more than 10 million unique visitors in the first six weeks. Google offers “Google currents,” which are magazines on phones and tablets.
Consumers already have the wherewithal to read long-form content on-the-go, right in the palms of their hands. New research indicates that three in 10 adults read an e-book last year and half own a tablet or e-reader.
The digitally driven publishing evolution is here to stay and with the changing landscape comes a new consumer expectation that long-form digital content, especially online magazines and newspapers, should be free. So, as social fuels content discovery and mobile fuels digital consumption, how do we ensure that the “p” in publishing still stands for profit?
The answer lies in the continued evolution of the publishing industry. Here are three ways that publishers can embrace the shift.
New distribution platforms allow for a more streamlined, yet larger distribution universe for content where there is less need to rely on traditional marketing infrastructure. This opens up viable options for content to be free to the readers and highly profitable to the publishers.
Free content consumption on the part of the consumer is a controversial notion (isn’t that a main ailment of the music industry?) But by embracing new technology platforms and shifting the existing industry structures, we can create new ways to monetize long-form content.
One of the appealing aspects of digital content is that it is not limited by space as with traditional magazines. There are endless numbers of ‘pages’ to explore topics, illustrated with vibrant photo galleries and linked to corresponding articles that go deeper into additional subjects of interest.
This ability to expand content can take one article and make it a multi-faceted feature story that readers can follow many trails of interest.
As technology changes the way we view the world and the way we consume content, readers expectations have changed too. There is a mass expectation of good design. A sleek and engaging design can help to retain new readers.
Leveraging responsive design, for example, is one way that publishers can cater to a reader base that expects a great experience across devices. Others take an app first approach to mobile experiences and design accordingly. Either way, the bar has been raised, and design-oriented publishers are winning.
It won’t be long until the next hurdles for the publishing industry arise and new innovations are born to conquer them. So, before declaring the industry dead, next time let’s see what’s rising up to save it.
The cynics among us believe that the Amazon Fire Phone is going to be a flop. As Matt Haughey shows us in the above image, a phone attached to a product finder sounds like a mercenary mess, aimed at improving Amazon’s life and not ours. Our own Darrell Etherington believes that the price is too high at $199 (and a wild $649 for an unlocked model). Instead, he believes that it should cost $1 and the service be nearly free. After all, this is a marketing machine instead of a general purpose mobile phone. It’s another pointy tendril that the evil Bezocthulhu can embed into our wallets.
First, I love Matt’s picture. For those not familiar, that’s the CueCat, an aborted product marketing UPC reader that magazines once thought would save them from the onslaught of the web. The company sent out the UPC readers and expected users to scan URLs in printed magazines like Wired and then go to websites (this was before humans could comprehend the complexity of the Internets). It was a flop and when hackers reverse engineered them so they could scan the UPC codes on wine bottles and books, CueCat tried to sue.
But this is no CueCat. Amazon knows we can all type google.com into our browsers and find products and services in a second. What they want is for you to not type in Google and instead wave your phone at your TV to buy a download of an episode of House.
Amazon is a marauding army that is about to eat most retail. Bricks and mortar stores will become havens of last resort for those who need Red Vines at a moment’s notice and grocery stores aren’t going away, but everything else that can be shipped will be shipped by Amazon. With further economies of scale and sped up shipping times I could imagine a moment when almost all of our non-perishable sundries come from Amazon.
And this phone is part of that future. It’s not for us nerds. We want a phone that can run a terminal emulator and Dragon’s Lair. We want something we can hax0r with a janky home-brew operating system or a phone that anticipates our every need in terms of music and media. What Amazon made is a phone that lets Amazon shoppers excel at what they do best – shop on Amazon.
If you do not see the value in the phone, it’s because you’re not a regular clicker of “Buy It Now.” This strange retail power, available to mere mortals for only a few years now, has changed the way humans buy hot sauce. Why go to the store, park, walk in, buy hot sauce, drive home, drink hot sauce when you can order a case of twelve bottles of Cholula for immediate delivery. It’s like Costco without the people handing out free sausage.
I feel that the naysayers are tut-tutting at the behavior suggested by an Amazon Fire Phone. What kind of capitalist brainwashed moron would want a phone that works solely within a certain ecosystem, has very specific media sources available by default, and encourages you to buy within a certain range of products if you want everything to work together and want to ensure fast, friendly service? Ahem. Ahem.
TextTeaser, the text summarization API that TechCrunch first profiled back in October 2013, is now open source and available on GitHub. Creator Jolo Balbin says that he decided to make the code available after “stumbling upon some scalability issues, especially in the API.”
So he took down the API and recoded TextTeaser to make its auto-summarization process faster. Developers can chose from two plans, including one that costs $12 for every 1,000 articles summarized. The second is an enterprise plan that costs $250 per month and comes with a dedicated server that can store article source. That means each time someone uses the tool to summarize an article, TextTeaser will learn the keywords in the text and use it to improve its results.
“In this TextTeaser, you can train your own summarizer. You can provide the category and source of the article that will be used to improve the quality of the summaries. In the future, users might also have the ability to provide what keyword is important and what is not,” Balbin explains.
Developers have integrated TextTeaser with news reader apps, including Gist. Balbin is also planning to optimize it for financial, medical, and legal documents, which are often very long and onerous to read.
Rocket Internet-backed mobile payment processor Payleven has today announced the launch of a new NFC-equipped Chip & PIN card reader which will be available for customers in the second half of this year.
Like its previous Chip & PIN card reader, the unit will allow small businesses to accept payments on the go – but unlike the previous iteration, it includes NFC support so that vendors can also accept contactless payments from debit cards or mobile devices.
Payleven says hardware that allows vendors to accept contactless payments generally costs between €400 – €700, but that its new NFC-equipped reader will cost around €100/£100 – which is only €20 or so more than the existing Chip & PIN device.
If you’re the average TNW reader, you probably haven’t noticed, but earlier this week we started limiting the length of posts in our RSS feed to 150 words.
I say “if you’re the average TNW reader” because the popularity of RSS has declined over the years. Most people find our articles through social media, search and coming to our site directly. So, the number of people who will be affected by this is likely to be relatively small, but if you read us via RSS you certainly deserve an explanation.
As a publisher we have to continually review how we offer our content and what we get in return for it. That means experimenting with features, seeing how they perform and tweaking based on the feedback we receive.
We’re proud of what we publish on The Next Web and believe we deserve something in return for it. So we’re offering two options:
We’ll keep giving a full feed to services like Flipboard, so your experience there won’t be affected.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on our RSS feeds, and please give TNW Pro a try.
➤ TNW Pro
Image credit: Shutterstock
See the original post: Why we’ve truncated posts in our RSS feed
Newzmate, a Kiev, Ukraine-based startup that develops semantic data analysis, aggregation and recommendation services, has launched its latest product. “Traqli” is a button (and service) that publishers can install to enable readers to keep track of news stories and story updates. It’s one-part news “follow” button, and one-part recommendation engine since, using its own semantic analysis and algorithms, related stories are sent to readers in a Traqli email digest.
Once a publisher has aded the Traqli widget to its site, readers can choose to track any article by clicking on the “traq” button. Traqli then automatically consolidates related news and sends it to a user by old-fashioned email — although an app for mobiles and tablets seems like an obvious next step.
For publishers, Traqli is designed to foster closer relationships between a publication’s brand and their audience by encouraging readers to stay longer and return more often.
In addition — and this points to a potential revenue model — Traqli can be used as a targeted marketing tool, whereby advertisers and marketers can take advantage of the segmentation provided by the Traqli widget and technology, which sorts visitors by their interests. In other words, by targeting the interest-graph that Newzmate aims to build.
On the personalisation and content recommendation side, competitors include Outbrain, Taboola, and Gravity, but these tend to focus on engagement when the reader is already visiting a content site. Visitors coming from Traqli recommendations mean that publications/blogs are getting readers who have demonstrated interest in a story, and are not necessarily a current or even recent reader.
Newzmate is backed by the Ukranian incubator Happy Farm.
Read the original post: Ukraine Startup Newzmate Launches Traqli Button To Let Readers Follow News Stories
Spritz, a Boston-based startup that’s been developing a speed-reading technology in stealth since 2011, is in the process of closing a $3.54 million seed funding round. Investors include Denis O’Brien, investing through his telco company Digicel.
$1 million of the seed was raised earlier, when the company was known as Spritz Technology LLC (it’s now Spritz Technology Inc), but the rest of the round — $2.54 million — is committed and due to be closed within a couple of weeks, TechCrunch has learned.
Spritz’s patent-pending technology streams text at readers, one speedy word at a time, to cut down the time the reader’s eye has to spend moving from word to word — letting them consume text more quickly (or that’s the theory).
To aid the reading process, Spritz aligns words using what it refers to as an “optimal recognition point method” which presents the portion of the word that apparently allows the reader to most quickly recognize it, so the next word can be speedily pushed out.
The focal point Spritz has identified for the eye to best parse words is where the letters coloured in red appear in the below examples:
To use Spritz, readers choose their word per minute rate, hit play and simply stare at the same spot where each single word appears, aligned for fast consumption.
Spritz says the technology can support variable speed reading rates of between 100 to 1,000 words per minute — albeit, at 1,000wpm you’re really going to feel like a robot. Blink and risk missing whole sentences.
The company is making grand claims about “reinventing the way people read”. But, as others have already noted, rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) techniques date all the way back to the 1970s. And studies of RSVP speed-reading methods have indicated that comprehension and retention of data falls as speeds increase.
Despite this, Spritz argues that its take on speed reading is different. And, indeed, it rejects any similarities with “other RSVP-based software” — beyond the fact that both show users one word at a time — claiming its technology is based on a comprehensive re-analysis of how people read and comprehend text that’s also specifically tailored to consumption on mobile devices.
“Other than single word display, we are very different from anything else that’s been tried in the past and we think people can see that immediately,” says co-founder and CEO Frank Waldman. ”Anyone who has tried Spritz knows how fast and easy it is to learn. There is nothing else out there that we have seen where most users can significantly improve their reading speed in less than five minutes.”
“Spritz is based on a complete and systematic re-analysis of the reading process,” he adds. “For the redesign and optimization components, we thought about all of the new possibilities that new digital devices and mobile capabilities create. When we started researching Spritz, there were many other (speed) reading techniques but they either relied on conventional (static) text representation on a printed page or they didn’t integrate well into the modern mobile landscape.”
Waldman also claims Spritz’s technology “promotes increased comprehension of the material versus traditional reading” — truly a grand claim, considering the history of RSVP. (I asked Spritz what studies it has done to back up its comprehension claims and will update this post with any response.)
“From our tests we have seen that many people can reach speeds around 600 wpm while still exhibiting high comprehension rates,” he says. ”Every person we tested so far was able to read with Spritz. Some did stay on low speeds of 300wpm. But this is still faster than conventional reading speed. People only have to know that they have to focus on the red character and the hash marks. Then after 2-3 short texts they already start to relax as they understand that they can easily get the words without eye movement.”
Spritz is not making any apps itself, but is rather focusing on licensing its technology to others — to websites, device and app makers — to spread its reworked reading system further. Its business model is not cemented yet; it wants to get users first. Its ambition: one billion readers.
“At this time, Spritz is focused on building a user community of 1 billion readers,” says Waldman. ”We want everyone to make their apps and webpages ‘Spritzable’.
“Our goal is ubiquity, we want to make sure that everything that makes sense to spritz can be spritzed. We are not just a consumer-play and expect to partner with large technology companies. For example: Google Mail can be powered by Spritz so users can easily open and read emails on the go. Google can also integrate Spritz into Google Maps so users can view comments, reviews, ads and promoted content from businesses. Companies like Amazon can also integrate Spritz into their e-readers. With Spritz, Yahoo! can let users easily find what they’re looking for without leaving their current web page.”
“We also hope that some of the bigger players in tech, most of whom we showed Spritz to last fall, will wish to partner with us instead of attempting to copy our technology, we have worked incredibly hard and almost everything that you see with Spritz is patent-pending,” he adds.
The startup publicly outted its technology earlier this month and has its first partners lined up to deploy it. The first implementations on mobile will be the email applications of the Samsung Gear 2 smartwatch, and the Galaxy S5 smartphone.
The smartwatch use-case — with its constrained screen size — has an obvious application for a technology that can break a large amount of tech down into consumable chunks. Albeit, users may not want to sit and stare at their wrists for very long periods.
“We believe that the best use cases for Spritz involve daily tasks that involve improving convenience and efficiency for our users,” adds Waldman. ”We think that Spritz is wonderful for cutting through all of the things that you HAVE to get done during the day. A smartwatch running your email on Spritz is a great example.”
Another arguably more interesting potential use-case for Spritz could be low-cost feature phones which have small and low resolution screens — with the technology acting as an enabler for mobile users in emerging markets to comfortably access large amounts of information on budget devices.
“Our goal is to make Spritz available anywhere that our partners and their users think that it makes sense,” adds Waldman. “We expect a lot of innovation in the ways that partners integrate spritz technology into webpages and apps in all kinds of devices throughout the Internet of Things. You may see spritzing in all types of media, including broadcasts and movies. Billions of readers around the world could soon be spritzing as way to effortlessly consume information.”
TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez contributed to this report[Image via Flickr by Sam Bald]
Read the rest here: Speed-Reader Startup Spritz Closing $3.5M Seed
The startup, which was founded a year ago, has built a presentation creation platform that lets businesses quickly create online tutorials and manuals, utilizing content from around the web — or building presentations using their own marketing materials.
The platform can also be used by individuals (and SMEs) — with Roojoom using a freemium pricing model to support different customer strata.
The startup claims high engagement levels for people viewing presentations built using its platform. ”The average time a person spends reading a piece of content on the web is 20-40 seconds, which is not enough time to educate your customer or drive them to action. Roojoom closes this gap by connecting multiple pieces of content in a fun and engaging way, keeping readers engaged for over 9 minutes,” it tells TechCrunch.
“During this time the reader is led by the brand, step-by-step, through the content. Roojoom’s interface also includes a customizable call-to-action button that encourages them towards taking an action, such as purchasing a product or service, subscribing to a newsletter, following on twitter, etc.”
Its current b2b customer roster includes Microsoft Ventures, Clarizen and eToro, as well as “major banks and publishers”. Roojoom says its user numbers have tripled since November — although it’s not disclosing the exact size of its user-base at present.
Ronen Smooha, former MS executive and a managing partner in 2B-Angles, is joining the round as an investor after previously working with Roojoom as a mentor at the Accelerator. “After working closely with Roojoom for four months, I believe that Roojoom has a winning team, great vision and the ability to execute,” commented Smooha in a statement.
Although Roojoom was not initially focused on the b2b market it said today it plans to use the seed funding to further develop its product offerings for businesses — with a specific focus on content marketing and training – having gained most traction as a platform for businesses and publishers to create content that can educate their own customers.
In terms of competitive landscape, Roojoom says this focus on delivering a “guided learning experience” sets its apart from other companies that offer presentation tools or simply act as content aggregators.
“Our advantage is that businesses can increase brand awareness and re-purpose available content to suit their customers – while leading them through the content step-by-step,” it adds.
Notably, Roojoom is not scraping any online content — rather it shows live web pages (and includes a link back to the original content), which allows it to circumvent imagery reuse copyright issues.
Read more from the original source: Roojoom Closes $600K Seed To Push Its Online Tutorial-Builder At More Businesses