Episode 13 Push Pop Press (Facebook Instant Articles) with Todd Bishop

Summary Notes


In episode 13 of "Acquired," hosts Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal, joined by guest Tod Bishop from Geekwire, delve into the world of technology acquisitions that have succeeded, with a focus on Facebook's acquisition of Push Pop Press. They discuss the implications for the publishing industry and the evolution of digital content consumption, touching on the challenges and opportunities for publishers in the age of social media platforms like Facebook. The episode also explores the integration of Push Pop Press's technology into Facebook's offerings, leading to the development of Facebook Paper and Instant Articles, and the broader impact on content distribution and monetization for publishers navigating the digital landscape.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Acquired Podcast Episode 13

  • Episode 13 of Acquired focuses on successful technology acquisitions.
  • Hosts Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal discuss the publishing industry.
  • Special guest Tod Bishop from Geekwire provides insider perspectives.
  • Listeners are encouraged to leave ratings and reviews on iTunes.
  • The Acquired Slack community is growing and interactive.

"Welcome back to episode 13 of acquired, the show where we talk about technology acquisitions that actually went well. I'm Ben Gilbert. I'm David Rosenthal and we are your hosts. We have a very special guest today visiting us from Geekwire. Tod Bishop."

This quote introduces the episode and its focus on positive outcomes of tech acquisitions, as well as the presence of a guest from Geekwire.

Administrative Announcements

  • The hosts ask listeners to leave a rating and review on iTunes to support the show.
  • A Slack community has been created for Acquired listeners.
  • Instructions on how to join the Slack community are available on the Acquired website.

"First one, please leave us a rating and a review on iTunes. It is tremendously helpful for the future of the show as we invest in better tech and we get more and more guests on and we're able to do more things with the show."

This quote emphasizes the importance of listener support through ratings and reviews for the podcast's growth and improvement.

Sponsorship from Pilot

  • Pilot is a sponsor and partner of Acquired, offering accounting, tax, and bookkeeping services.
  • Pilot is the largest startup-focused accounting firm in the US.
  • Pilot helps startups focus on their core product by handling financial tasks.
  • Pilot serves a range of companies, including high-profile startups like OpenAI and Airtable.

"Pilot is the one team for all of your company's accounting, tax and bookkeeping needs, and in fact, now is the largest startup focused accounting firm in the US."

This quote highlights Pilot's role and significance in providing financial services to startups, facilitating their focus on core business activities.

Facebook's Acquisition of Push Pop Press

  • Push Pop Press was co-founded by Mike Matas and Kimon Tsinteris, former Apple employees.
  • The company aimed to reimagine digital books for mobile devices.
  • Their first product was an interactive book app for Al Gore's "Our Choice."
  • Push Pop Press won an Apple design award for their work.
  • Facebook acquired Push Pop Press, integrating its technology for sharing stories.

"So without further ado, our episode this week is on Facebook's acquisition of Push Pop Press."

This quote sets the stage for the main discussion of the episode, which is Facebook's acquisition of Push Pop Press.

The Founders and Their Background

  • Mike Matas and Kimon Tsinteris were influential in designing iconic Apple software.
  • Their work included the iPhone's camera app, Maps, and the battery display.
  • Matas was also involved with Nest, a secretive startup at the time.
  • They contributed to the high standard of user experience in software design.

"Yeah, and as a total Apple nerd, these guys are legendary. I mean, you look at their portfolios, they've designed everything from the charging battery icon on the front of the iPhone for the first six software releases to maps, to on the map."

This quote acknowledges the founders' legendary status in the tech community due to their contributions to Apple's software design.

The Push Pop Press Technology and Product

  • Push Pop Press's technology allowed for highly immersive and interactive digital books.
  • The company faced potential IP issues with Apple over similarities to patented technology.
  • The acquisition by Facebook was possibly influenced by these IP concerns.

"Although Facebook isn't planning to start publishing digital books, the ideas and technology behind Push Pop Press will be integrated with Facebook, giving people even richer ways to share their stories."

This quote explains the intention behind Facebook's acquisition, which was to enhance storytelling on the platform rather than enter the digital book market.

Facebook's Mobile Strategy and Acquisitions

  • Facebook faced challenges in transitioning to mobile, with uncertainty around mobile ad revenue.
  • The acquisition of Push Pop Press was part of Facebook's effort to strengthen its mobile presence.
  • The founders of Push Pop Press went on to work on Facebook Paper and Instant Articles.

"It's one of the best ad units in history."

This quote refers to Facebook's newsfeed ad, highlighting its success as a mobile ad unit and its importance in Facebook's mobile strategy.

The Impact of Push Pop Press on Facebook Products

  • Facebook Paper was influenced by Push Pop Press's design philosophy.
  • Facebook Instant Articles, led by Push Pop Press founders, was a game-changing product for mobile content distribution.
  • The Push Pop Press acquisition contributed to Facebook's improved mobile experience.

"The animations and the sensibilities from Pushpop Press's book are just like, right there in paper. I mean, the whole immersive design philosophy, very smooth curves between things. You can tell it's the same team."

This quote describes how Push Pop Press's design influence is evident in Facebook Paper, showcasing the continuity of their design philosophy within Facebook's products.

Traffic and Referrals from Facebook

  • Tod has analyzed the analytics to understand the traffic exchange between their publication and Facebook.
  • They receive roughly 10% of their traffic from Facebook.
  • Organic search is the largest source of traffic, nearly half, but Facebook is significant for dedicated inbound referrals.

We get roughly 10% of our traffic from Facebook.

This quote highlights the significance of Facebook as a source of traffic for the publication, which is a substantial portion considering all possible traffic sources.

The Shift in Publisher Mentality

  • Publishers traditionally aimed to draw users to their own sites for conversions and subscriptions.
  • Instant Articles represent a shift in this approach, allowing content to be hosted directly on Facebook's platform.
  • This shift is progressively adopted by more forward-thinking publishers, indicating a change in content distribution strategies.

And I think instant articles is one of the best examples of that mentality shifting for publishers that are a little more progressive.

The quote emphasizes the changing mindset among publishers, where they are becoming more open to distributing content through platforms like Facebook's Instant Articles.

Instant Articles and its Impact

  • Instant Articles is a major change in content distribution, hosting publisher content on Facebook's servers.
  • This feature provides an immersive, fast-loading reading experience on mobile devices.
  • Publishers can sell ads within the articles and keep all revenue, while Facebook takes a 30% cut if they sell the ads.
  • Instant Articles load significantly faster than traditional web pages, which can reduce bounce rates.

But with instant articles, publishers are actually giving their content over to Facebook.

This quote explains the fundamental change Instant Articles brings to content distribution, where publishers allow Facebook to host their content.

Monetization and Platform Comparisons

  • Publishers consider the monetization potential when deciding to use platforms like Facebook Instant Articles or Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).
  • Google's integration with DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP) is seen as advantageous for monetization.
  • Despite Facebook's traffic advantage, Google's tools are better for the publication's monetization needs.
  • There's an acknowledgment of the reality of Facebook's large user base.

Google is actually a bit of an exception because they're so integrated with DFP, double click for publishers, and it's our native system, Google gets it.

This quote suggests that Google's AMP has a monetization edge due to its integration with existing publisher ad systems like DFP.

The Evolution of Publishing and Advertising

  • The publishing process now includes sharing content on Facebook as an essential step.
  • There's a holistic approach to readership, considering retargeting and advertising opportunities even after a reader leaves the publisher's site.
  • The role of an in-house ad sales force has diminished with the rise of platforms like Facebook, which offer extensive reach and ad sales capabilities.
  • Control over ad experiences and value to readers and sponsors remain important considerations for publishers.

You think of your readers in a much broader way than just the people who are on your site.

This quote reflects the broadened perspective on readership, which now extends beyond the publisher's own website to include social media platforms like Facebook.

Technical Challenges and Plugin Issues

  • Technical issues with Facebook's plugin for WordPress have hindered full testing of Instant Articles.
  • The plugin is supposed to streamline the process of converting content into Instant Articles.
  • Google's AMP doesn't face these issues due to the seamless extension from DFP, allowing ads sold on the site to appear on AMP pages.

We've only done a little testing with instant articles and actually it's a whole other issue. We've run into a problem with the plugin created by Facebook and automatic, the creator of WordPress.

This quote reveals the technical challenges faced by the publication in implementing Instant Articles due to issues with the Facebook plugin for WordPress.

Acquisition Category Discussion

  • The conversation shifts to discussing a specific acquisition, focusing on whether it was primarily for talent or technology.
  • It's debated what the acquired company was doing between 2011 and 2016, and the significance of their work with Facebook.
  • There's speculation about alternative scenarios if the company had remained independent or had been acquired by different entities, such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

My question is, what were they doing between 2011 and 2016, if it was a talent acquisition or a technology acquisition?

This quote introduces a discussion on the nature and implications of a specific acquisition, questioning the activities and strategy of the acquired company during a particular time frame.

The Role of Content Producers and User Experience

  • There's a comparison between the potential of reinventing books and the actual implementation of Instant Articles.
  • Instant Articles do not require publishers to alter their content creation process, while a more revolutionary approach would necessitate significant changes from content producers.
  • The discussion touches on similar efforts by other companies, like Apple's iBooks Author, and the challenges they faced.

But the ability to sell that audience was so limited relative to a Facebook.

The quote addresses the limitations faced by traditional publishers in selling their audience compared to the capabilities provided by platforms like Facebook.

Statsig: Feature Management and Experimentation Platform

  • Statsig is a tool for product teams to ship features quickly, conduct A/B testing, and assess the impact of features on business metrics.
  • It provides visualizations and a powerful stats engine for real-time product observability.
  • Statsig connects new features to core business metrics to determine their impact on customer product usage.

"Statsig is a feature management and experimentation platform that helps product teams ship faster, automate a b testing, and see the impact every feature is having on the core business metrics."

This quote explains Statsig's purpose and capabilities in helping product teams enhance their development and testing processes.

Statsig's Data-Driven Decision Making

  • Statsig enables data-driven decisions by allowing testing of product changes with different user groups and providing accurate impact reporting.
  • It is used by various companies, including Notion, Brex, OpenAI, and Microsoft, indicating a broad customer base.

"It's super cool. Statsig lets you make actual data driven decisions about product changes, test them with different user groups around the world, and get statistically accurate reporting on the impact."

The quote emphasizes the importance of data in making informed product decisions and highlights Statsig's global testing and reporting capabilities.

Crusoe: Clean Compute Cloud Provider

  • Crusoe provides a clean compute cloud for AI workloads, partnering with Nvidia.
  • Crusoe's data centers operate on wasted, stranded, or clean energy, offering better performance per dollar.
  • They focus on environmental benefits and cost savings by not relying on the traditional energy grid.
  • Crusoe locates data centers at energy sites like oil flares and wind farms, using otherwise wasted power for AI workloads.

"So Crusoe, as listeners know by now, is a clean compute cloud provider specifically built for AI workloads."

This quote introduces Crusoe as a specialized provider of cloud services for AI, emphasizing its clean energy approach.

Publishing Industry Evolution

  • The publishing industry has evolved from print to web, mobile, and now beyond owned properties.
  • Publishers must consider how to reach their audience and monetize content across various platforms.
  • The discussion includes the viability of publishers existing solely on social media platforms without a traditional website.

"This really does speak to the broadening horizons for publishers and the risks and opportunities that come along with that."

Tod Bishop reflects on the changing landscape for publishers and the need to adapt to new platforms and opportunities.

Geekwire: Community and Revenue Model

  • Geekwire generates around 60% of its revenue from sources other than its website, such as events.
  • Their approach involves creating a community around news and providing value to both the community and advertisers.
  • The focus is on quality news as the core of the business, leveraging it to engage a community and drive diverse revenue streams.

"The way we look at it is that our news brings people to the site, and then we create a community around that news."

Tod Bishop explains Geekwire's strategy of using news as a catalyst to build a community, which then opens up various business opportunities.

Traffic Sources and Audience Engagement

  • Geekwire's traffic is diverse, with organic search being the largest source, followed by direct visits and social media.
  • The design of the site considers that most visitors arrive through individual articles, not the homepage.
  • Geekwire aims to be a national and international technology news site, with a large portion of its audience outside Washington state.

"About 45% of our inbound traffic is from organic search, about 22% is from social, all forms of social, I'm sorry, 22% is from direct, and then about 18% is from social."

Tod Bishop shares Geekwire's traffic data, highlighting the importance of organic search and the distribution of audience sources.

Ben Thompson's Aggregation Theory

  • Ben Thompson's aggregation theory suggests that the Internet enables companies to aggregate customers, which in turn attracts producers.
  • This shift from traditional distribution aggregation to customer aggregation is evident in the publishing industry's adaptation to the digital age.

"In the Internet world, you need to aggregate the customers and then all of the producers will come to you."

David Rosenthal discusses the impact of aggregation theory on the publishing industry, emphasizing the shift towards customer-centric strategies.

Facebook's Influence on User Engagement

  • Facebook's app is frequently the first choice for users when they pick up their phone.
  • Facebook has control over what content entertains users, implying a significant influence on user attention and time.
  • The trust placed in Facebook's algorithm as an unbiased content curator is substantial.

"They decide what you're going to be entertained by. And that is a tremendous sword to."

This quote emphasizes Facebook's power in shaping user engagement by curating the content that entertains users.

"This gets right back to what we said last episode, that their crown jewels are engagement, and it's engagement and time on site and just how much of your life you're giving to Facebook. And that's the power that they wield."

The quote underlines that Facebook's primary asset is user engagement and the amount of time users spend on the platform.

  • Allegations have arisen that Facebook's trending news feature was biased against conservative viewpoints.
  • The reaction to this controversy highlights the level of trust users have in Facebook's algorithm.
  • The trending news feature is less visible and less interacted with compared to the newsfeed, yet the response to the controversy has been significant.

"And the news story basically alleges that they had talked to someone who used to work on that team and they said it was anti conservative."

This quote introduces the controversy regarding Facebook's trending news feature, where former team members claimed it had an anti-conservative bias.

"People give Facebook a tremendous amount of credit for having this agnostic algorithm."

The quote reflects on the general perception of Facebook's algorithm as neutral and unbiased prior to the controversy.

Facebook's Role as a Content Platform

  • Facebook's role extends beyond a social network to being a content platform where publishers need to be present due to the large user base.
  • The concept of engagement and time spent on Facebook is crucial for publishers when considering where to distribute content.

"As long as users are coming every day to Facebook, as a producer, as a publisher, you have to be there."

This quote explains the necessity for content creators to be present on Facebook due to its vast daily user engagement.

"I mean, the whole notion that they become the platform and they host it, they serve it up, they're in control."

The quote discusses Facebook's control over the content distribution platform, highlighting its influence in the media landscape.

Comparison with Snapchat and the Importance of Discovery

  • Snapchat is contrasted with Facebook, noting its lack of tracking and algorithms, and the difficulty in discovering new content.
  • The difference in content discovery between the two platforms is a point of interest.

"Interesting to contrast that with Snapchat, too, from last episode, which, know, they've said, we're not funky algorithms, we're not tracking you, we're not anything. We're like, you watch the stories you want to watch and you follow the people you want to follow, and it's hard to discover things on Snapchat."

This quote compares Snapchat's straightforward approach to content consumption with Facebook's algorithm-driven content discovery.

Evaluation of Facebook's Acquisitions and Strategic Decisions

  • Facebook's acquisition of Push Pop Press is seen as a good move, enhancing their content presentation.
  • The acquisition may not have been essential for Facebook's direction, but it added value.
  • There is a discussion about whether there could have been a bigger opportunity for Push Pop Press outside of Facebook.

"I think that doing something like instant articles is a natural course, and they would have done it maybe just like slightly less."

This quote suggests that Facebook's strategic direction towards instant articles was inevitable, with or without the acquisition of Push Pop Press.

"I don't know what else they would have done within Facebook. That would have been great, but I feel like Todd's got some."

The quote reflects on the potential of Push Pop Press within Facebook, questioning if there could have been other beneficial uses for it.

The Future of Facebook's Engagement Strategy

  • Facebook aims to be the central internet experience for users, indicating potential expansion into other areas of online activity.
  • Discussions include Facebook's investment in live video, television, games, and virtual reality as avenues for increasing engagement.

"So if Facebook's goal is engagement and they want to keep you in the Facebook experience and ecosystem longer, and they really want to be the Internet to you. We've seen social, we've seen publishing. What's next?"

This quote considers Facebook's ambition to dominate user engagement and speculates on future areas of expansion within the platform.

The Impact of Facebook Live on Content Strategy

  • Facebook Live has shifted the balance of content strategy, showing instant engagement and changing the way video content is approached.
  • The debate between using YouTube or Facebook for live streaming reflects the changing landscape of content distribution.

"So we've been doing live streaming, and we now have a debate every time. YouTube or Facebook? YouTube or Facebook. And in the past month, the balance has shifted to Facebook because you just see instant engagement."

This quote discusses the impact of Facebook Live on content strategy decisions, highlighting the platform's effectiveness in engaging audiences in real-time.

Monetization and Publisher Dynamics on Facebook

  • Facebook is creating opportunities for publishers to monetize content through sponsored content and other features.
  • The shift towards financial viability for publishers on Facebook is a significant change from simply using the platform for traffic generation.

"So long way of saying Facebook is finally starting to make it where it's financially at least worth exploring as a publisher versus just putting your stories on there and hoping that you get traffic back."

This quote acknowledges the evolving relationship between Facebook and publishers, where the platform is now offering monetization options that make it a more viable option for content creators.

Carve Outs: Recommendations and Insights

  • Recommendations for podcasts, articles, and technology that discuss new forms of journalism, publishing, and personal technology.
  • The carve outs include media that are not directly related to Facebook, indicating the diversity of content consumption avenues.

"So my carve out is actually another podcast, but it touches on themes that you all touch about."

This quote introduces a recommendation for another podcast that resonates with the themes discussed in the episode.

"My carve out for the week is something to listen to your podcasts on."

The quote presents a recommendation for a technology product that enhances the podcast listening experience.

"Mine is an article on medium by Andy Dunn, the founder of bonobos, or bonobos, as I've heard it both ways, called the risk not taken."

This quote shares a recommendation for an article that reflects on taking risks, relevant for those contemplating difficult decisions.

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