From Publisher to Platform: 14 ways to get benefits from social media Mike Bracken Technology Director – Development

Thanks Mark, and thank you to all of you who have taken time to be here today. Let me show you a little about who we are and what we do….

Founded in 1821 2nd largest English language online readership Publishes the Guardian and the Observer – and the, & Guardian Professional, in the education, media and public sectors
We are a small company, just 1600 people, with a huge brand. We have been publishing newspapers for over 200 years, and yet in the last 3 years our use of social media is transforming both what we do and how we do it. is a long time leader in the use of electronic and social media solutions. Let me show you a little about who we are and what we do….


Technology and the social relationships with a user in this country helped us to uncover the truth behind the death at a G20 rally in London. Our investment in social media and technology allowed us to analyse and bring to life the largest information leak of modern times. Our reporting and films behind the scenes with US servicemen and women in Afghanistan has won awards. And our many brands and new products, from iPhone apps to Eyewitness, have social media at their core

Massive change

Peter Sondergarrd at keynote: “We have created a platform for massive change. Information will be the oil of the coming century” Cloud, social, context aware and pattern based computing will be the 4 areas of the future. For technologists in the media industry today, there is a massive change taking place today. At its centre, this change is the change in relationships between brands, products and the consumer. Today I’m going to show you 4 areas where use of social media and technology is core to dealing with this change, but first a quick statement of our strategy:

So what do we mean by social?

So let’s define what we mean by Social.


Here’s our definition

Social = us + them/ you

Its starts off being about us, meaning us and them, or you.


us + them/you = Mutualisation

And it’s the heart of Mutualisation, a phrase coined by Alan Rusbridger, our editor, to describe increasingly active relationship between us and our audience

All about lowering barriers

Its all about lowering barriers. But what sort of barriers are these?

Between editorial and readers

Well, the first ones are obvious, such as the barriers between editors and readers. In our earlier video showing a policeman pushing Ian Tomlinson, who later died, to the ground, this clip was sent to us by a visitor from the USA

Between content producers and developers

But its also about changing the barriers between people who produce content, and developers who consume it, embellish it and re-distribute it to new audiences.

Between business departments and entrepreneurs

Its about reducing barriers between commercial departments and entrepreneurs who can use our content to make money for them and us, and about getting out of the way and letting them do it


The social media you may think I’ll talk about is what the marketing department does. Adding a like button to your site is the beginning of social...

What social isn’t for us, is what you may have thought I would be talking about today Just adding a Facebook ‘Like’ button to your site for instance. This isn’t social, its marketing

The Guardian

Huffington Post

The Guardian

The Guardian Washington Post

Huffington Post

To illustrate the point, here are some headlines from the day the Like button went live. As you can see, we’re in the information business, and it’s very difficult to Like a plane crash or indeed, and oil leak. Of course social media has its place for this, but that place is usually found in the marketing department. The social media I am here to illustrate is core to our mission, technologically advanced, commercial in nature and fundamentally about….


Social is more important to your business if it is about providing a culture within your organisation where the permission to remove and cross barriers is paramount.

Its about people. Lowering barriers between internal and external developers, as witnessed at one of our regular Hack Day seen here.


Social is also about creating new businesses and revenues About transforming internal and external relationship

Its about bringing new businesses in, and being a proper partner with them to mutualise the opportunity

If social technology is implemented by you, the technology change agent, it is the key to unlocking huge cost savings and driving new revenues

Crucially, social technology is also the key to unlocking huge cost savings internally and driving new revenue creation with minimal investment up front.

How do you make it a core part of all you do?

So how have we made it core at the Guardian? We believe there are 4 areas of social media transformation, so I’m now going to give you some examples.


SIGNPOSTING Innovation Products & business

SIGNPOSTING Innovation Products & Organization business

SIGNPOSTING Innovation Products & Organization Technology Business

Innovation. Products & Business development. Organisation. Technology.



Innovation is implicit, not a department. Challenge your way of working from within.

Innovation is, as you know, a frame of mind. Its not a department. The surest way to demotivate anyone is by hiving them off in an innovation function – as this is inherently anti-social


Innovation cannot be engineered or just delivered

But innovation won’t just arrive. You can’t just pick up the phone and order 6 boxes of it

Create conditions for it to flourish. Those conditions are human rather than purely technological.

As a technology leader, you have to create the conditions for it to thrive


This is a panda, which like innovation is another animal which too is tough to cultivate. Its also our iPad app, and when we created it we faced a conundrum:

We didn’t want to release bad iPad app or miss out on product launch. How could we create a great product in minimal time which would show off aspects of new device?

Of course, we didn’t want to launch a bad application, but we wanted to be there at launch, so the challenge was to get a great product ready in a short period of time

And how could we make it so compelling that our product would feature on launch advertising?

Well it turns out that we had some internal prototypes. We had a product manager and an interactive developer at this for 3 days, and gave them the freedom to use whatever tools and resources they felt appropriate

After about 2 hours they’d made this...

They used some classic social technology – a whiteboard – and Flash, and after 2 hours they had made this:

And they made this. And it allowed us to get into new opportunities:

Missed opportunity cost is not of not doing it, it’s of doing it wrong
Not just taking part in a new platform for media,

320,000 new users

But attracting 320,000 new users. That is a few thousand more than the average daily sale of the newspaper in the UK

UK: 18%

US: 50%

ROW: 32%

Now digitally, our web based breakdown is around 40:30:30, with 40% from the UK, 30% North America and 30% Rest of the World. But as you can see, 82% of these new users are in markets weʼve often found it difficult to crack.

Social Reputation: Everybody’s talking about it

And, as we’ll see, people are saying nice things about us. This is our social reputation. But really, innovating around iPad apps is surely par for the course for a media company? Fair enough. But here’s the flipside of innovation

The key innovation principle is to focus this type if talent on the middleware and back end costs.

Innovate the middleware & back end to reduce costs

Make money by saving money

Now middleware costs don’t make for as attractive slides as iPad apps, but in this audience I know where your costs are hurting. Like me, you’ve got ever more digital channels, social technologies products to satisfy and yet, perhaps, uncertain rewards to come

Web developers are often excellent at scaling middle tiers.

Which is where Graham Tackley comes in. Graham is a very, very good web developer, from the same team as the iPad guys. He’s particularly good at understanding how the infrastructure and middleware of web services work, and how web services scale, and there’s a reason for this:


They understand what users do, how users flock and operate as a crowd and how best to cache and make efficiencies

Developers like Graham understand what users do. How they interact, what they want to do on our sites and services and, crucially, how their expectations change as a crowd. Or put it another way – they understand users social expectations far more deeply than any technology services company

So what Graham did was implement memcache to reduce the number of database calls. You can see here with the big red arrow to show when it was switched on. This enabled us to scale spectacularly well. While our customer base doubled from 17 million to 37 million per month in 2 years, our scaling costs were expected to increase by $3.5 million in that time. Instead, we made a saving of

How much saved on database licensing and new hardware?

$2+ million per year

A modest number, for sure, but this continues to grow, and we get the benefit year on year.

Social technologists: There are no tiers

What this shows is that there are no tiers in the technology organisation – no separated front end and back end team competing for resources. Success is celebrated whether it be in the hands of the consumer or in real innovation in the infrastructure, and our people are expected to treat working on either in the same way. Socially, there are no internal tiers

Kill stuff. Fail fast

Regardless of sunk cost, stop competing with yourself.

The third innovation lesson from social technology is about how to approach technology which already exists.


Don't spend all your time money and resources reinventing wheels

In 2007/8 we spent money building our publishing platform, so that our editors and journalists, and commercial teams, could use it. And it worked. It was our set of wheels, so to speak. A technology platform delivered on time and under budget, we then proceeded to turn it inside out


Make a wheel factory.Build a platform for you and your partners to use.

But what we realised is, in a mutualised world, our advertisers, partners and users needed to use it too, so we set about building a wheel factory

Its called the Open platform, a set of API’s and data constructs, a platform for us and our partners

Use the platform to speed up product development and reduce risk of trying something new

We now use this platform to speed up our product development, and by using our platform we’re able to innovate quickly, succeed and fail fast, and cheaply. You’ve seen this panda before, it’s our iPad app

And it was developed very quickly, in about 3 days, and people say nice things about it

Social reputation: You can’t buy this sort of influence. You can only earn it through what you make and do.

So the key for us that social media enhances reputation, but doesn’t create it. If you start off with the premise: what is our social media strategy? And then try to create it, you’ll probably not be in as good a place then if you created the conditions for innovation and then used social media to amplify the results.


Open up. Allow your customers & partners to innovate with and for you. Celebrate and reward them

The final innovation point. Open up – its hard to innovate when all you know is yourself. As we’re in Florida, let me show you one quick example which may resonate

At the recent UK election a third party developer created Voter Power Index, which shows the true weight of each voters power, as due to our electoral system some seats as Florida was here – are marginal and important, while some seats barely see a real competition for votes

This application shows the relevant voting power by ratio across the UK

And shows how some seats are barely competitive. We would probably not had the time or resources to build this, but it happened quickly as a result of us opening up our innovation capacity. And who knows, as in the UK we’ve just elected a coalition govt for the first time in decades, perhaps it was more important than we can guess.

Product and business

How can social media impact products impact the core business

We’ve had some great success with product management

Empower domain specialists: Product management demonstrates immediate success

We took our existing comment system. We believe the social conversations with our users are so crucial that we invested our development resources into this platform.

on Thursday 16th September

1 comment every 6 seconds

As you can see, it’s a very busy platform, with live engagement with hundreds of thousands of our users every day

345386 users who have posted at least one comment $220k CAPEX + development cost

63¢ per user commenting

We took this in house, saved over $300,000 as a result, and have much more control over our future in this area. It’s the perfect circle for us: A decreasing cost per user, daily feature additions and innovation, negligible scaling costs. Enables new revenue streams.

The best way of getting people talking is to make it the best possible experience.

The lesson here is that generic, business analysis won’t cut it for results like this. We need dedicated, passionate product management who know the technology and have a passion for this use of social technologies. No one brought us the requirements!

The next issue is speed. Every piece of work is categorised as 3 day, week or month

Social media is quick: Prototype to product speed: from 3 months to 3 days


You can now build working software in less time than it takes to have the meeting to describe it. Simon Willison

We knew this sort of innovation pace and thinking was possible with social media tools, but possibly didn’t appreciate just how effective this could be so quickly. Mark gave some great examples yesterday – here’s ours

This application captured over 300,000 individual MPs expense records, and allowed our users to crowdsource them. Suddenly, our readers can see where exactly UK MPs expense spending has gone, and take part in the reporting and classification system

Hosting cost $600

(no k’s or m’s on the end of that number)

The crucial part of this application is not just the speed, but the cost: By using Amazon EC2 the entire hosting cost was $600. It was done in 3 days.

The cost of missed opportunity, priceless.
People are still benchmarking democracy apps against it.

So, by making this quickly, we spent barely any money and deepened our reputation, because politics apps are still benchmarked against this today


Technology *is* business development

A personal bugbear, but when I hear CIOs and CTOs talk about ‘the business’ I know they’re failing. There is nothing more demotivating, more inherently anti-social than to tell developers they are not part of the core business, and if your core business is about making profits, so be it


This guy knows it, but his answer is not social. One of the biggest problems to the paywall approach is that it breaks the interlinked nature of the internet and moreover makes social distribution hard if not impossible. If you had to ask your friend to pay when you passed them a physical newspaper for them to read a story it would seem odd. Online never imitates real life.


vs paying for content paying for utility

We don’t believe he is wrong to charge for content, just that the mechanism is wrong. We believe that users will pay for functionality and utility, and our technology team have proved it

This is the Guardian iPhone app. It’s beautiful and, contrary to conventional wisdom when launched in October 2009, it charged for news. It came from the technology department, was developed in just over a month, and the results speak for themselves:

200k+ new users $0.45 million+

Over 200,000 new users and a healthy profit already

Second mover advantage is often best. Understand possibilities first.

Second mover advantage is often best.


I now want to talk about the most important part of our social technology.

Its how we organise ourselves.

Sit close: get to know your internal audience


Kings Place is a social building. Last year we moved from 8 buildings to 1, removed nearly all offices and integrated our teams. What we effectively did was….

Build a social network

Build a social network.

Build a social network out of your building.

With our building, and it’s the most important part of our success. It may signal the end of the technology function. So what?


You cannot achieve long term organizational change with hired help – talent is everything

105 contractors

28 developers

This shows the position I found in 2007, so we turned the recruiting system inside out. Peer reviews, peer recruiting and attraction of talent via social media was key. I was asked by one CIO here whether to turn Facebook on – it’s a productivity problem apparently. If your people are not on Twitter and Facebook telling their peers how good it is to work there, then why not?


Talent begets talent

But to deliver on social media its vital that the users of these technologies are a key part of the business. So we invited the right sort of people who could do it to join us and work with us.

The people you hire are your new recruiters.

So the key message is: social media is inherently based on peer review

Technology is a first class citizen. There is no ‘business’, its you.
Something I’ve touched on already is inclusion





Once you have this talent there’s no point in constraining it to a small area where it can’t do stuff.

Talent like Dan and Meg here require a central place in our business. Dan lead development at Flickr, the photo sharing site which is one of the primary social media services on the Internet

After 2 months, in his words, ‘playing with a newspaper’, he delivered to me: a napkin

Which, using free, social media tools and services, delivered Zeitgeist, a brand new way to show the news. It’s colourful, deeply addictive and optimised for the iPad. Crucially, before the iPad existed


So, rather than take it from him and give it to the marketing dept, we encouraged him to talk directly to our clients

Let your talent drive, and then tell the story.

No-one has the passion for social technologies more than those who create and use it, so let them drive


Finally, a word on technology

Apply web 2.0 & open source to the enterprise.
This is a no brainer


We introduced Google and Salesforce across the enterprise

We have reduced our opex costs by roughly 65% and the project paid for itself within the first year.

Increased comms. Skills take-up. Virtual working increased. Speed and low cost of internal development on internal systems.

Oh, and people can collaborate better. It’s more social.

Socialising the enterprise is an absolute must. If the only way to get something done – whether it be a helpdesk call or a request for investment – is social, then everyone becomes social by default.

Find the right tools, use them. Write off the investments
The other part of enterprise renewal with social media tools is the headshift to start throwing stuff away


Sometimes you need a container ship sometimes you need a speedboat. Chris Thorpe

This is Chris, one of our developer advocates, who has helped usher in the use of tools like Google app engine and various open source databases and tools

Bring things in house where appropriate In 2009/10, the use of social technology to replace existing enterprise and license software saved 70% of the total cost of the development costs of the business

And the financial results can be staggering

Use external resources where appropriate MPs expenses - Amazon EC2 Zeitgeist - AppEngine

These are some of the services we use in anger, but there are many more

Compute on demand and platform agnostic means less cash spent and more friends.

And crucially, these costs scale, both in terms of money, but in terms of the size of your social graph.

‘Bench strength’: open up to external developers & partners
Finally, social media is inherently scalable

54 staff 3000+ in network

38 coding

300+ partners

And what this shows is the new tiering of social technologists around our business


As we were open to more developers, The government asked us to get together a collection of people who had made stuff with our API to make stuff with their data. So they turned up at our offices, and you may recognise this guy: Sir Tim Berners Lee

Our social network.

This is our social network. You should have one too

Peer reviews wins every time stick to it. People will validate your results.
Social is important to your mission. We found that when we did the first 13, then the 14th thing to happen was validation


This social power brought us to the attention of our Government

Who, seeking to be open, gave us a hard to understand finance data set. Basically, UK PLC on a USB stick. Within a week, our social network had pulled apart COINS, and made the finances of the UK open to everyone

And people with big amplification power notice, and use their social tools to tell others

When people like this talk about you publicly, others listen and influence spreads.

And this is where influence comes from, and why I’m here today to talk to you. So, if you want governments and communities to talk about you, if you want to reduce costs, get closer to your users and drive your business, then social media is the way to go. If you want to use the Like button from Facebook, knock yourself out, but this is social media. Let’s just recap these points:


1. 2. 3. 4.

Innovation is implicit, not a department. Challenge your way of working from within.

Innovate the middleware & back end to reduce costs

Regardless of sunk cost, stop competing with yourself. Kill stuff. Fail fast

Open up. Allow your customers & partners to innovate with and for you. Celebrate and reward them

Products & business

5. 6. 7.

Empower domain specialists: Product management demonstrates immediate success Prototype to product speed: from 3 months to 3 days

Technology *is* business development


8. 9. 10.

Sit close: get to know your internal audience

You cannot achieve long term organizational change with hired help – talent is everything

Technology is a first class citizen. There is no ‘business’, its you.


11. 12. 13. 14.

Apply web 2.0 & open source to the enterprise.

Find the right tools, use them. Write off the investments

‘Bench strength’: open up to external developers & partners

Peer reviews wins every time stick to it. People will validate your results.

Social = us +them/you
Mike Bracken The Guardian Web: Email: Twitter: leftback

Social media is about us and them/you.

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