India reinvents the digital newspaper

Live Mint screenshot on mobile
Live Mint built the digital edition on the mobile first

Can you think of a single newspaper worldwide that does not have sections? It’s the format that has defined news consumption. There were a few other holy cows. Hierarchy. Curation. And shaping a narrative. With the advent of the internet, newspapers re-examined design to an extent. But they felt that drastic changes would send their readers away. Look at the biggest ones in the world. New York Times. The Wall Street Journal. The Washington Post. The online editions are mirrors of the print version. Yes, e-newspapers did make digital navigation easier. But the core has remained unchanged. Experimentation has been limited to interactive stories, video sections, infographics, large format photo montages like the Boston Globe. Editorial control continues to reign supreme. Even though customers have made it clear that they want to read what they prefer.

Live Mint newspaper mobile screenshot
The mobile version of LiveMint – and where 90% of its readership is

That’s where social media led the way. They took content and flowed it into never-ending streams. And consumers were more than happy to follow the stream. Newspapers lamented the loss of branding when their stories in social media streams were not differentiated. They wanted customers to stay loyal and did not offer any incentives to do so. And mobile news consumption broke the citadel. None of the old structures worked. Apps were seen as the answer. But switching from one app to another and encountering another version on the desktop was a clumsy solution. Both apps and desktop sites had to be updated with hundreds of stories every day. Then, earlier this year, a business newspaper in India did the unthinkable. They redefined what the digital newspaper needs to be. And in the process, they’ve made a leap that no other newspaper worldwide has attempted to do.

LiveMint – The newspaper redesigned and reimagined

Rameet Arora speaks to Ashwini Gangal at Digipub World 2019

Rameet Arora leads the redesign. Portions of what follows are taken from his talk and interview at Digipub World.  “You don’t need pages and complex navigation. What are users seeking? Trusted sources, differing needs to be satisfied during the week, relevant information and content.

Consumption has changed – users skip through headlines in the morning and then read the longer articles when they have a little more leisure. These were the inputs for design. 80-90% of news consumption happens on the mobile phone. Yet we continue to design for the desktop and then the desktop design adapts or responds to screen sizes. We reversed this and said, what if we designed for the mobile phone and it adapts itself to the desktop? And the 10% people who were going to the desktop actually got a consistent experience vs mobile. What we need to get right next is hyper-personalization.

Learning from social media consumption habits

Social Media graphic
Photo by Merakist on Unsplash
Social Media graphic
Photo by Merakist on Unsplash

The reason we like Facebook and Google is because they seem to know what we want to see. As news publishers we tend to think of ourselves as more serious, our customers were telling us, this is true, they want more relevance. All of this gave rise to a brand new website, which runs on one page. No navigation required. The article opens and shuts on the same page and users don’t have to move out of the single page structure to do anything. If you don’t want news personalised, switch to the ‘Latest’ mode, where the latest stories appear in chronological order. The power of ‘My Reads’ is that every session you have had on the site is saved. If you’ve ever want to go back to an article you’ve read, it’s always there. If you read half of it, it’s there, if you read it fully, its there. You don’t need to bookmark things anymore. And the results of something as tiny as that were incredible. When users come more often, spend more time, consume more content, we get ad impressions. Those ad impressions mean more money if it gets more viewability and people click through more and if you multiply all that, it adds to dollars.

One page, no sections, infinite scrolling

A design structure allowing infinite scrolling
 Photo by Siyan Ren on Unsplash
A design structure allowing infinite scrolling
Photo by Siyan Ren on Unsplash

When we made this website, the naysayers said, how are you going to make money, you ‘ve got only one page, where are you going to put your ads, what are you going to do about advertising. The counter-argument:  What happens if engagement goes up, what happens if viewability goes up, what happens if scroll depth goes up, what happens if people are actually consuming more. All of this happened and revenue has gone up 3X in a matter of months

We tend to be very condescending about social media because it is social media but the truth is there are lots to learn. We all spend time on social media, their ability to personalize, their ability to be dynamic, their ability to contextualize information to engage us, the way they have mastered infinite scrolls, there are a million things to learn. The feedback from our customers was being set by those experiences and benchmarks.

Cards ease creation and workflow control

LiveMInt stories as a panel one below the other
Stories as a deck of cards

Why cards? From a content creator’s perspective, cards allow us to operate at speed. Whether it’s videos, infographics, widgets, first-out news, the card is a simple format that can be replicated very quickly, dragged and dropped. There is no page structure, discoverability and time to go live to really be concerned about. Not only did we change the design, but we also changed the content hierarchy. We changed the way we looked at URLs. We also changed the backend because it was important for content creators to replicate. The first couple of months, there was huge SEO impact because Google took its time to index us. The whole external distribution system that feeds into a website wasn’t ready from a design point of view to be able to replicate something like this. It’s been a struggle to get some of that external ecosystem to work in step with us.

Topics are a combination of stories, stories don’t make sections because a topic can easily fit into many sections but broadly and loosely, the section is a collection of topics. If you don’t have enough content under a particular section, it hurts you both from a user experience and an SEO point of view.

Mobile-first design has been the biggest differentiator

Hand holding a mobile phone at an agle
Starting with the mobile
Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

Now that 80-90% of people are consuming news on the mobile phone, it didn’t make that much sense to prioritize desktop design. We did mobile-first maximizing the experience for the mobile site and allowing the same design to flow into the desktop. We got lots of flak initially, people on Twitter said, we hate you, you’ve ruined this site, you’ve killed this site and so on.

Internal customers, very senior internal customers, used to go to our desktop site and say, What have you done? As the days, passed, the desktop site began to perform even better than the mobile site. The science says that the eye moves from left to right, top to bottom and fixates on the middle, which is where you would design the site for. Finally, data speaks. As people engaged more and more with our website, we realized that they were getting used to it, and now, it is accepted.

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