Social media has revolutionized modern journalism. Through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Flipboard, the public curates today’s news through likes, up-votes, karma, and shares. In this way social network subscribers, not editors, determine which headlines fill a subscriber’s Facebook feed and which ones never see the light of cyber day. However, such a user-driven news cycle has spawned growing problems with fake news, bots, trolling, and toxic exchanges between commenters. As a result, many readers have soured on the established social media outlets. Enter Japanese company Uzabase who believes they can re-engage the disillusioned masses with their innovative program: The Quartz App.
» Uzabase is a Tokyo-based information infrastructure company, specializing in providing critical information to help inform business activity.
» NewsPicks was first launched by Uzabase in Japan in September 2013, fashioning the platform as, “a service for supporting the daily decision-making process of business people.” NewsPicks sought to create a social media platform predicated on a growing community of professionals, providing their incisive analysis on news items from each users respective career experience.
» Uzabase introduced NewsPicks – now The Quartz App – to the U.S. market in November 2017, as a joint venture with Dow Jones. NewsPicks U.S. touted itself as an oasis from fake news, bots and trolling through curation by human editors in real time. NewsPicks has often been described as a hybrid between Twitter and LinkedIn, specifically focused on business related news.
» In July 2018, Uzabase acquired Dow Jones’ interest in the NewsPicks platform. Furthermore, Uzabase announced its acquisition of the online business news site Quartz from Atlantic Media.
» On Tuesday November 13th, Uzabase officially integrated the NewsPicks platform with Quartz, creating a single entity that consolidates the social media platform with the popular online business news brand. In doing so, Uzabase views the move as a critical component to become “the world’s most influential Business Media” by 2023.
TGNR’s Paul K. DiCostanzo spoke with Ernie Sander, Director of Platform Community at Quartz about how the platform has evolved after one-year since launching in the U.S. market, and what Quartz is aiming to achieve in the foreseeable future.
TGNR Paul K. DiCostanzo: You’re coming up on one year since NewsPicks launched. What are you noticing about the nature of the audience you’re building, who are you attracting thus far to the platform?
Quartz Ernie Sander: One thing I notice is that people are hungering for a place where they can go every day to process what’s going on in the world, and to talk about the things in the news that interest them. Not so much news headlines, but stories that they read and that they find compelling or memorable.
A lot of people are disenchanted with their experiences on the big social platforms. They’ve quit Facebook or Twitter for one reason or another. Maybe it’s the anger or the trolling. Maybe it’s filter bubbles or the dubious news sources.
What I’ve noticed is that there’s a real desire among people to find a venue online where other users are informed about topics, rather than just winging it or reacting from straight emotion. They also want the other users to be capable of behaving in a civilized way.
I hear from a lot of people who tell me, after I’ve introduced the app to them and they’ve played around with it, that they get it. They feel like NewsPicks/Quartz fills that need for them.
It’s interesting because obviously the media industry is really crowded with platforms and apps and publishers. Yet NewsPicks/Quartz is attracting, I think, a crowd that sees a void in all those other offerings.
They might like bits of Reddit, and bits of Twitter, and bits of LinkedIn, but they’re looking for something that unifies those elements—and gets rid of the things they don’t like. That’s what I hear from a lot of people.
There’s also a really neat unpredictability to who comes to the app. Users end up sharing their picks and comments on their other social channels. They’re starting to organically spread the word to their networks.
We’ll notice new commenters and we’ll look them up and see who they are. They come from all different worlds. They come from science and tech, from retail and entertainment, from banking and education. There’s a cool serendipity to who’s discovering the app.
TGNR-PKD: What is a specific example of what you’ve described?
QZ: I was talking today, for example, with a couple of guys who are leading figures in the agriculture-meets-tech world. They’re at the center of the question of what food is going to look like in the future. How’s it going to get to the table? How’s it going to be grown? It’s everything from crossbreeding different kinds of strawberries to using robots to pick the crops.
That’s a conversation that is still very nascent in the app at this point. But if you get five, six, seven, eight, 10 people who are in that space professionally, that becomes an interesting discussion. We’re on our way to building that conversation.
TGNR-PKD: NewsPicks was originally a Japanese endeavor. How has launching this in the United States differed from the original Japanese experience?
QZ: It’s a great question. I, unfortunately, wasn’t there for the launch of the Japanese app, which was three, four years ago. I can’t really speak to what that was like. I think in talking to the founder, Yusuke Umeda, one of the things that we benefit from on the US side is that experience on the Japanese side in terms of knowing what things help growth, what things can cause that growth to slow, how to get it moving again, etc.
The Japanese team has a playbook that has been really helpful here.
TGNR-PKD: The platform has a lot of times focused on business, finance of various forms, hard politics, and things of that nature. How are you looking to further engage in other subjects that are also popular on other social media news outlets, and incorporate that successfully into NewsPicks/Quartz?
QZ: People can pick and comment on anything they want in the app. There’s no requirement that they pick certain topics. That said, I think we are more focused on a business-interested audience. I’m not talking narrowly about things like earnings, the markets, or economic statistics. I’m talking about a much more expansive view of business—business as it intersects with a whole bunch of different sectors, from tech to food to fashion to entertainment to science, etc.
We think it’s that set of topics that is most profoundly changing the world as we know it—and that’s where the conversation should be happening.
At this point, we’re not interested in building a site for people to talk about last night’s football game or debate a recent movie review. We think there are already lots of places to have those conversations. That’s not to say that somebody won’t pick a story at some point about something like that, and that it won’t generate a big conversation on the site that we might even feature. But in general, we don’t really think about how we can capture that world. I think we’re really focused on people whose interests—and more importantly whose picks and comments–somehow touch business. Again, with that fairly open-ended definition of business.
TGNR-PKD: Now, as NewsPicks/Quartz expands and your audience starts getting bigger, you’re undoubtedly going to have to deal with a variety of issues in all likelihood. Everything from bots to fake news. To this point, the site in my experience has been completely void of any of that. How do you plan to keep it that way as you attract more users?
QZ: There are a couple of things that help us in that respect. One is that our homepage, also called Editor’s Picks, is curated by humans. It’s much easier to control what happens on that page: to delete comments that are inappropriate and rid it of people who don’t abide by our Terms of Service.
Also, we see—and read—every comment that comes in. So there’s a lot of scrutiny on what happens on the app, and we care a lot about the tone, the civility. We’re pretty aggressive about doing what we have to do to adhere to that standard.
This is different than a lot of the bigger social sites, which historically have taken the position that because they are platforms—rather than publishers–they have less responsibility for policing the content. We think that’s a cop out.
TGNR-PKD: One of the things that’s unique about NewsPicks/Quartz is there’s no trolling, and that’s overt in your advertising. As the platform grows, how are you looking to best maintain as well as enforce the standard of civility you’ve achieved thus far? How will you continue to successfully eliminate the trolls?
QZ: On many sites, users get rewarded for mean-spirited behavior, for takedowns of other users. NewsPicks/Quartz is designed to be disappointing for trolls. Our users, for example, can only comment one time per story—to encourage them to be more deliberative and thoughtful with their contributions but also to remove the back and forth between commenters that corrupts so many comment streams.
And there’s no downvoting or disliking of comments. You don’t have to like another user’s comment, but unlike other sites, we don’t offer users a handy way to bash other people’s contributions.
All of this sort of removes the feedback loop that trolls crave.
“[w]e really want other users on the app to be able to see the people behind the comments they read. And that we want users, in general, to behave as they would if they were sitting in a room with other users of the app.”
TGNR-PKD: How often has it been necessary to chastise anyone?
QZ: If comments are offensive or hateful or even blatantly off point, we get rid of them. When people become repeat offenders of these types of comments, we then get rid of them, too. That’s not uncommon at all.
The app was created as an oasis from the anger and identity politics that are rife on the internet. It’s also supposed to be an alternative to culture of anonymity that is prevalent. We care a lot about the realness of the community.
To that end, one of the things that we do is require people to use their photos and real names when they comment. We sometimes have to reach out to people because they’re using a picture of their dog or they have a movie star’s name as their name. We tell them we appreciate their comments, but we ask them to make those changes to their profiles.
We explain to them that we really want other users on the app to be able to see the people behind the comments they read. And that we want users, in general, to behave as they would if they were sitting in a room with other users of the app. We think that’s part of creating a valuable, trusted community.
When we reach out to these people, a lot of them have gone ahead and made the changes to their profiles. Then they have written back to us and said, “Oh, OK, I understand what you’re trying to do.”
The lesson for me is that if you set the bar high, a lot of people will appreciate that—and will live up to it.
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TGNR-PKD: In your view and the view of NewsPicks/Quartz at this time, how do you want to enhance the user experience one year from today? Where would you hope to be overall?
QZ: We want to be first stop for people looking for a good place to digest the most important and interesting stories of the day. One of the things that’s been so powerful about the Japanese example is that it’s the go-to-place to consume business news for millions of people. It’s an ingrained part of their day. It’s the first stop for them in the morning, in the afternoon, whenever they come, maybe multiple times a day. That’s where we want to be, too.
To get there, we need to make sure that the quality of our curation and comments is so good that users feel like it’s a richer experience than they can get anywhere else.
Write to Paul K. DiCostanzo at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Publication Note: This article is not sponsored content, nor a tacit endorsement for the Quartz App. TGNR and its parent company are not affiliated with Uzabase or its subsidiaries.