The Guardian Already Has An In-House Tool for “Attention Analytics.” Do You?

orphanWhile Upworthy was busy writing their “down with the pageview” manifesto yesterday, it turns out that the Guardian’s been using attention analytics it since an in-house hack day, when web architect Graham Tackley and digital audience manager Chris Moran decided that they wanted to see real time data to help manage the SEO for The Guardian’s “400 pieces of content” a day, according to this piece by Ciara Byrne on Fast Company.

Here’s how it evolved from a took on one man’s desktop, to a newsroom-wide tool called Orphan, according to Byrne’s piece:

[Tackley] tailed the logs on to a couple of servers, pushed it to a messaging queue, and created a Scala Play Framework app to consume and display the data on a dashboard…Word got around and more and more Guardian employees started to use Tackley’s dashboard, now named Ophan. Tackley decided to upgrade it to capture the Guardian’s entire click stream, which generates between 15 million and 25 million events a day and store the data for seven days. This meant moving from his desktop to Amazon Web Services…A JavaScript hidden pixel on the website now records every event instead of retrieving it from the logs and places it in a message queue. Since there were now too many events to hold in-memory, an app called Serf takes the message queue, extracts what was needed, and inserts it into an ElasticSearch cluster. The dashboard asks the same questions of ElasticSearch, a real-time search and analytics engine, that it had previously posed to the in-memory event list

There are a few lessons to be gleaned from this:

1) Use your resources. And make sure they’re communicating with each other. Here, an in-house hack day gave an editor and a developer a chance to talk about problems and work towards a tailored solution. Even newsrooms with limited financial resources could put heads together to solve problems

2) Real-time attention data will change how you work. It sort of fits into the “everything is live, all the time idea” from the ‘unbolted newsroom’ we wrote about last week: by giving the journalists and social media editors themselves access to live data — the Guardian’s works with a time lapse of less than five seconds — they can tweak not just their headlines and tweets to get more people to click on stories, but they gain real insight into what people want, when they want it, and where. That lets them tweak their workflow.

3) It also does really help for tweaking headlines and promo tweets. Which is good news for newsrooms still finding their digital selves. Says Tackley in the FastCo piece:

Most of that is applying the subbing rules you use in a traditional print product. Pick out the key line. Pick out the key quote. There’s a number of journalists who run their own Twitter accounts who have actually started seeing the style of tweet that works for their content.

4) Lastly, there’s hope. One thing the Guardian is finding is that their serious journalism actually does very well on social media sites. So, it’s not all Buzzfeed lists and Upworthy videos that work on the web. Tackley again:

People traditionally think that the only thing that does well on Facebook is ‘top 10 cats.’ Actually our serious journalism does really well as well. People are realizing that looking at what people read is not evil. It shouldn’t be the only thing you chase and it’s merely one input into the editorial process but it’s not necessarily a negative thing.

Has your newsroom thought of using attention analytics? Do you guys have an in-house hack day on the calendar?