Today marks both the public debut of Contextly and my departure from editing and reporting at Wired.
Ten years of writing and editing at Wired, covering everything from the NSA to Y Combinator, has taught me many things: that privacy and transparency matter, that journalism is hard and fascinating, and that, while the future of news and publishing is the Web, the tools for online journalism remain frustrating.
Writers must move faster than ever and are now often their own editors, photo desk and publicists — though the tools they use are too often kludgy and inadequate.
That’s why today is my last day as an editor at Wired; and why I’m leaving to run my start-up, Contextly, full time.
Readers crave context in news, even as a reporter’s job of putting the day’s story (and more often stories) into a larger picture is hard to do when speed is essential and the news cycle never stops. But writers – good ones — know that the day’s work is just part of a long-term story that they and their co-workers have been telling for years.
There is deep institutional knowledge stuck in writers’ heads — for instance, knowing that today’s story about Twitter competitor App.net has deep resonance in earlier, but still relevant, stories about the open-source challenge to Facebook, Diaspora. But that’s not something algorithms or tags are good at surfacing.
And what about the readers that come to your older posts via search – how will they know that you’ve written more recent pieces on related content?
In my early days at Wired, we tried to deal with this by hand-crafting related links using HTML and a text file that we’d copy and paste into our stories. That model was, to put it in kind terms, inefficient and non-dynamic.
From that frustration and others, came Contextly. We’ve built an editorial solution to this problem that marries editorial control with serendipity. Our related links widget has been running on a number of sites, including across all of Wired.com, in our stealth beta for months. We’re not at liberty to say how much we’ve increased page-views and time-on-site for Wired, but it’s been *interesting* and we’re very happy with our start.
It’s an exciting time for online journalism, with a wide range of innovation, and there’s still so much that’s yet unexplored — even basic things.
For instance, adding links in the body of stories to previous work and to other sites around the web benefits readers. Links are what makes the Web a web and they even help with SEO. But adding links is a mind-numbing drudgery of tab switching, searching and cutting-and-pasting – even just to link to your site’s previous stories.
So Contextly comes with a tool that makes adding links of all stripes simpler and faster than ever.
We’ve also made analytics tools that produce reports are readable, designed for publishers and writers. We send out daily, weekly and monthly reports that sites love, and we’ve only just gotten started with building data tools that are designed for the needs of publishers and writers — not e-commerce sites.
There are other related links widgets out there, but none have been designed by a journalist for journalists. Contextly combines ease-of-use and dynamism and serendipity, while making sure that editorial control is not lost.
We’re also building tools that help companies with blogs to present to their readers non-annoying offers to join an e-mail list, buy a conference ticket or sign-up to join a beta or read a whitepaper.
With invaluable testing help from sites like Wired, BoingBoing, Cult of Mac and others, we’ve had a great stealthy beta, and we’re ready now to expand it by opening up our beta invite sign-up to the world.
We’re proud of what we’ve already built and hope that the tools are a solution to challenges that many sites are facing.
Those who self-host WordPress can install the plugin in minutes, simply by searching for “Contextly Related Links” in the Plugins section of WordPress. We don’t strain your database and are nimble on your site. Those on other platforms can drop us a note and we’ll talk with you about our API and how we can work with you to get Contextly working on your CMS.
That said, this is just a beginning. Our roapmap is long and exciting – filled with big data challenges, tools that make publications and writers’ workflows simpler, and tools that help sites learn about their readership and try things they’ve never done before.
We’re called Contextly because we believe context is everything and that current CMSes largely treat each new story or post as if it has no connection to what came before it. We have an expansive conception of what context means and believe new tools can make news better for readers, more fun to publish as journalists and more profitable for publishers, big and small.
Leaving Wired was a tough decision, especially now.
Wired has published some amazing work over the last year, including Mat Honan’s gripping story of his epic hack, Kim Zetter’s piece on the recruiting e-mail that unraveled a massive phishing hole, Wired Enterprise’s work that makes data centers and servers gripping to read about, Spencer Ackerman’s award-winning stories on the FBI’s anti-Muslim training courses, Wired Science’s outstanding coverage of the Mars Curiousity landing, and Playbook’s wickedly fun series on the physics of Olympics sports.
Time also recently named the section I edited at Wired, Threat Level, one of the top 25 blogs of 2012, thanks, in no small part, to work like David Kravets’ must-follow legal reporting and Quinn Norton’s deep dive into the world Anonymous.
It’s not easy walking away from such co-workers, and I’ve only been able to do so thanks to the support of Wired.com’s Editor in Chief Evan Hansen.
But I’m taking with me the commitment to storytelling and journalism that I learned at Wired. It lives at the heart of Contextly, which will support great sites around the Web, helping them get great content to readers who want it.
We’d love to have you join us on the adventure and work with us to build tools that make news and online publishing better.