Following The News Just Got A Whole Lot Easier


Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 2.36.44 PMFollowing the news that you care about shouldn’t be hard.

But we’ve all had that situation where we read a story that leaves us with questions and wanting us to know what’s next. Just recently, the two-week Ellen Pao sexual discrimination case roiled Silicon Valley, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he would not seek re-election, and, in California, nearly everyone is concerned about the ongoing drought.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to a miss crucial update to a story, or to show up in the middle of a story and feel like you have been dumped into the Sea-of-Contextlessness.

Making it simpler for readers to follow the stories they care about is why we built the FollowUp button, which we are announcing today.

Simply put, the FollowUp button shows up at the end of story on a publisher’s site and lets the reader sign-up to get notifications when a follow-up story is published by that publication. We also immediately send the reader the BackStory – a collection of stories formatted as a timeline that give context for the story you are following.

For publishers, the FollowUp button creates a new, direct distribution channel that gets the right story to the right reader. Helping readers stay up-to-date on the stories they care about isn’t just going to get more page views, it builds and reinforces strong relationships with readers.

We also believe that the data publications get about the number of people following a story will help publishers know what stories people want more of, not just which got the most clicks.

Even better, there’s no extra editorial work involved at all in the creation of StoryLines. The system is algorithmically driven. StoryLines and BackStories are created from a publication’s existing stories automatically. We created this by extending the technology that powers our Related, Evergreen, Personalized and Popular recommendations for publishers.

In a time where readers increasingly use Facebook as their homepage and Facebook is pushing to have sites publish directly onto Facebook, building direct and trusted relationships with readers grows more imperative for publishers by the day.

Here’s an example of a StoryLine experience on a story from SpaceNews about private weather satellites.

At the end of the story, there’s a button readers can click to “Follow this story”:

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The reader is then prompted to provide an email address and also to subscribe to SpaceNews’s daily email newsletter.

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After a readers confirms her email address, Contextly then sends the “BackStory,” an algorithimically-created timeline view of previous stories that lets the reader see how a story developed.

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Then when an update to that story is published, we’ll email her to let her know:

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The FollowUp button is just one of the new kinds of editorial engagement products that we’ll be building off the Contextly engagement platform, and we’re really excited to start rolling it out to existing and new Contextly Enterprise clients.

If you are a reader, go try it out here on SpaceNews, on KQED News Fix and on A Blog To Watch and see what you think of the experience. We love feedback so let us know what you think at

If you are a publisher interested in getting the right story to the right reader, contact us at to see how to get the FollowUp button for your own site.

Contextly 3.0: More than Just a Pretty New Paint Job

Sometimes a new paint job is more than just a paint job.

We set out a while ago to move to a more modern design with our recommendation modules, and we definitely did that with 3.0 which we released on Thursday.

For instance, here’s a screenshot of a live 3.0 main module display.


And here’s the new default sidebar design. (Have you made or re-used a sidebar yet today?)


We also gave publishers more point-and-click controls over the display:

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And there’s lots more font choices now, including your site’s default.

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We also decided it was time to optimize some old code and lay the rails for some new features.

So in addition to the cleaner display, we re-wrote the code that makes our content recommendations modules responsive. Now we handle some edge cases better – like really wide displays and large images in the in-story sidebars.

We also added a little more space between individual recommendations and between rows.

For our Enterprise sites, we updated the FollowUp button so that the second time a reader chooses to follow a story, the subscription is auto-magically added to their subscription list without need to re-enter their email address.

FollowUp button Confirmation

Perhaps most importantly, underneath the new paint, we built a foundation to make it easier for us to introduce new features and display modules. The details of the scaffolding aren’t very exciting, but the possibilities are.

With 3.0 out and sitting pretty, we’ll be rolling out these new features over the coming weeks and months to give publishers even more tools for building engagement and giving readers great experiences.


Understanding Contextly Reports

Contextly Reports is Contextly’s new analytic system, reinvented. The features of this new system were born from the following objectives:

  • Demonstrate the value of Contextly by describing the performance of all aspects of our offering.
  • Provide information to writers and editors that will assist their workflow.
  • Simple, clear, and useful information is the only information that should be included in the reports.

We hope we have created reports that are mostly self-explanatory and self-contained. However, if need be, here is where you will find explanations and annotations of each feature. We will use a report from ACME Goat Farm Blog for our example (If you are just in it for the goats, go here):

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Contextly Reports 2.0: Evergreens, Scroll Rate, and More


Starting Monday night, Contextly clients will be getting a new analytics report in their inbox, with more data about what readers are doing on the site, what stories are resonating, and how users are interacting with Contextly’s recommendation modules.

We’re excited because this is a big leap for us and our customers. We built an entirely new reporting infrastructure that’s capturing more data in a more reliable way. That allows us to report back to sites with data that helps them do their jobs better. And we’ll be able to more quickly add new reporting to support our awesome clients.

Here are the five biggest changes in the new reports:
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Evergreens: It Takes An Algorithm


A single evergreen is easy to spot. But you need serious technology to see them all. It’s as true with stories as it is with conifers.

Let me start with a bold statement, follow with an anecdote and then end with a gift.

The Bold:

A publisher’s best older stories are more valuable to readers today than the day’s newest stories.

Stick a great older story from the archives on the front page — and it’ll do better than anything else on the page.

Okay, I don’t have that proof yet, but we have seen some pretty amazing things with “evergreen” stories, both on the sites of publishers we work with and on Hacker News, which we ran some deep data analysis on.

Any decent-sized publisher has a treasure trove of great and still-relevant stories, videos and photos sitting in their archives, what’s usually referred to as evergreens. And yet publishers rarely dig into this mine and pull out the best. I suspect that’s partly because they don’t have the tools to easily find and re-surface these older stories.

I also suspect publishers, even ones born in and of the digital age, still think of their jobs as churning out the new. It is after all the news business.

But what’s new isn’t always what’s most valuable to readers.

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Make Your Content Go Evergreen

(Note: These are the prepared notes of a lightning talk I gave at the January 15, 2015 Hacks/Hackers Meetup in S.F. There are a few additional notes here, and it is not verbatim.)

Hi I’m Ryan Singel, one of the co-founders of Contextly. Contextly is an engagement service that helps publishers build their audience in the age of drive-by readers. One of the ways we do that is through a set of recommendations that show up at the end of a piece of content. These include related and exploratory links that let a reader dive deeply into a subject or explore widely.

We think a lot about evergreens. That’s because one of our strategies is to algorithmically identify evergreen content and include them in our Explore section. This keeps good stories alive long after they’ve fallen off the homepage – extending their life — and getting the best of a site to readers who haven’t seen them before.

This has turned out to be a very effective strategy that is good for publications and readers.

So here are the 3 things I want you to believe by the end of this talk: Evergreens are more valuable than you thought they were when you walked in; they are worth identifying and analyzing; and publications need to have a Evergreen plan.

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Top 15 Stories Published from the 1940s-50s that Did Well on Hacker News

Pinecone in an evergreen treeSome of what’s old is new again.

Below you’ll find a list of the top 15 stories published from the 1940s-1950s, spanning World War II to the beginning of modern computing, that have interested the Hacker News community over the last seven years. At Contextly, a content recommendation service for publishers, we call these stories “evergreen,” as they continue to be valuable long after their publishing date.

The list ranges from a healthy selection of George Orwell to a classic treatise on the possibility of using links to organize the world’s knowledge to the pitch deck for Disneyland. Oh, there’s Einstein dropping a bomb on capitalism, too.

A few themes emerged as I read through these.

Being first to predict something transformative in the future is intrinsically interesting, including what was missed in that prediction. Classics still resonate beyond the classroom, and the memory hole has not swallowed Orwell, which is doubleplusgood.

Formerly unpublished works from well-knonw authors catches attention, even when the new work isn’t particularly good. And, finally, secret government documents are very interesting — perhaps even more so for formerly having been secret.
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Vox and Outbrain: A Tale of Two Publishing Worlds

The value in publishing, as illustrated by Ben Thompson. (Image copyright Ben Thompson, used with permission).

The value in publishing, as illustrated by Ben Thompson. (Image copyright Ben Thompson, used with permission).

It’s a tale of two publishing worlds.

Last week, Vox, the publisher of sites including The Verge and SB Nation, landed $46.5M in funding at a valuation of $380 million. It’s just the latest in a series of new publishers who have convinced investors that there’s a profitable future in online media, something that seemed once impossible, given the economic drubbing that online publishing experienced over the last ten years, when the news around publishing seemed to be a never-ending string of announcements of layoffs, buyouts, and closures.

Also last week, Outbrain, an advertising company that specializes in disguised ads at the bottom of news stories, reportedly filed preliminary paperwork for an estimated $1 billion IPO on NASDAQ.

While both might seem like a win for online publishing, it’s not a pairing. It’s a juxtaposition that illustrates the bifurcation underway with large news sites in the U.S.

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Some Analysis of All Hacker News Evergreen Stories


At Contextly, we build engagement tools that help publishers build high-value, loyal audiences. One of the ways we provide value to a publisher is by automatically detecting older stories that are still valuable to readers and including these stories in our recommendations. We call these stories “evergreens”.

Although, we can detect and surface such stories, describing the value of these stories in terms of page views leaves something to be desired.

We would like to describe the value of evergreen stories in a more compelling way. A better description would be one that moves us closer to understanding the economic value of stories, especially the economic value to publishers and readers.

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All Hacker News Evergreen Stories Ordered by Score

This resource contains all evergreen stories posted to Hacker News through November 7th, 2014. Up to that time, 1,544,661 stories were submitted to Hacker News. Of those stories, 6,826 have been identified as evergreen. They are posted here ordered by score. They are posted here in chronological order.

Conceptually, an evergreen story is a story that provides value to readers well after its publication date. For the purpose of this project:

An evergreen story is any story where the difference between the submission date of the story and the publication date of the story is two years or more. The publication date of the story is indicated in the story’s title by using the annotation “(YYYY)”, e.g. “The WorldWideWeb application is now available as an alpha release (1991)” by Tim Berners-Lee.

If you are interested in Some Analysis of All Hacker News Evergreen Stories.

TITLE: Forgotten Employee (2002)
SCORE: 746

TITLE: There’s no speed limit (2009)
SCORE: 699

TITLE: Fucking Sue Me (2011)
SCORE: 663

TITLE: Tron Legacy (2010)
SCORE: 657

TITLE: Why I Quit Being So Accommodating (1922)
SCORE: 650

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