By Justin Ellis
What drives an online journalist crazy? Not knowing why a story failed to get good traffic. What’s worse? Wondering why a similar story from a competitor seemed to set the Internet on fire. It’s a common scenario in a competitive media world where attention, as measured through pageviews and social mentions, can be a barometer of success. The standard analytics most companies use only measure their own traffic. Signalnoi.se wants to broaden that by providing journalists with a real-time social engagement tracker that can compare you and your peers.
A winner in the 2012 Knight News Challenge, Signalnoi.se will use data from Facebook and Twitter to help newsrooms track the life of stories, find trends, and shape coverage decisions. The project was created by Mohamed Nanabhay, former head of online for Al Jazeera English, and Haroon Meer, the founder of Thinkst. Signalnoi.se is receiving Knight’s money as a venture capital investment of undisclosed size rather than as a grant; the company plans to use the funding to build out the tool and prepare it for use in newsrooms.
Nanabhay said the idea for Signalnoi.se began in January 2011 as the Arab Spring was in its early stages. Al Jazeera English had just published extensive reporting on leaked documents covering a decade of negotiations between Israel and Palestine. The Palestine Papers was a tentpole investigation; they played it big, with a large presence on the website and on the air.
“On the 25th of January, we were investing all these resources into putting out this story — we thought it would be the biggest story of the year for us,” Nanabhay said. “But I noticed in real time, because of Chartbeat, the audience was attracted to the Egypt story.” As a result, Nanabhay reconfigured the Al Jazeera English homepage by promoting stories on Egypt. As Al Jazeera English covered the rest of the Arab Spring, a similar pattern of homepage adjustments played out.
What Signalnoi.se does is build a formal process to treat social media as an indicator of audience interest. The system can monitor and graph stories for a news site and several of its competitors — be they geographic or thematic — over a period time that can range from minutes to hours and weeks. Stories are given a score that factors in tweets and Facebook likes, comments, and shares. Since Signalnoi.se leverages data from pre-existing social platforms, it fit well with the networks theme that was emphasized in this round of the News Challenge.
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.