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MarTech and AdTech News Headlines Update on May 28, 2021

The content calendar

Have you ever wondered how some brands always appear to be posting new content? How do they find the time to create something engaging while running a business? The answer isn’t as exciting as you’d imagine. They’re just probably well organised and have put together a content calendar. Basically it’s a document you use to schedule and organise your content across topics, publishing, authoring and type.

Why content calendars matter

In its 11th Annual B2B Content Marketing report, the Content Marketing Institute found that 70% of respondents used a calendar. This figure jumped to 80% when the report focussed on the most successful B2B marketers. The report also found that when an unexpected event occurred — like a pandemic — 64% were able to use the calendar to change their marketing message and strategy.

How do you create a calendar?

As with most marketing activities these days, there’s a digital solution available. Forget planning out the months ahead on a whiteboard. Trello, CoSchedule and Monday are just a few examples of what’s available. Each business is different so you might need to experiment with each option to see what suits you. As an example though, CoSchedule helped a marketing software company quadruple its blog output and drive a 98% increase in traffic over two years.

Privacy power

With growing concerns over online privacy, Google is attempting a rebrand of sorts. It’s recently been notifying users about new privacy controls allowing them how to easily delete the last 15 minutes of their search history and location tracking notifications. Google has claimed in the past these type of measures could hurt its ad revenue. Could this be a first step towards paid privacy, where users pay for an ad free experience?

Forced to protect privacy

Google has largely been forced into this position because of Apple’s app tracking transparency (ATT) privacy feature. The tech company has released a rather unsubtle ad showcasing the feature but it’s already proving popular. Recent data has reported that only 4% of app users are opting in for tracking.

Lockdowns and privacy

Privacy concerns aren’t going away for big tech, a situation exacerbated by the pandemic and associated lockdowns. A new report has found that nearly half of global consumers feel they’ve lost control over their digital footprint. A further three quarters are taking steps to reclaim this footprint. It’s clear any digital product handing back control of user privacy will have an advantage over the competition.

Accessible content

Approximately 15% of the world’s population — about one billion people — live with some form of disability. If brands don’t actively make their websites and content accessible to this segment, they are alienating a significant number of customers. In some countries, you can even be sued. Accessibility can’t be an afterthought though, it needs to be part of any content strategy.

It’s a widespread issue

Web accessibility non-profit, WebAIM, evaluated the homepages for the top one million websites. They found 51,379,694 distinct errors related to accessibility. Users with disabilities can expect to encounter noticeable errors on one in every 17 homepages they visit. This clearly isn’t a small issue.

The costs of inaccessibility

If users can’t access your digital product, they won’t use or engage with it. When it comes to streaming services, 20% of people with disabilities cancelled their service because of accessibility issues while 66% felt frustrated, let down, excluded and upset when using the service. It’s not a monetary issue — if brands want to push diversity and inclusion in messaging, they need to practice what they preach. By the way, researching this topic, we realise we’re not there yet either. Standby.

The subscription age

While the early days of the internet promised free exchange of information and ideas, this utopia never really eventuated. Search engines gave us access to information and social media made us digital stars, but the payoff was our privacy and data was sold to the highest bidder. Some have argued we’re now entering a new digital age — based on subscriptions where content from big studios, news groups and influencers has a price.

Tweaking the subscription model

Streaming services were the first to normalise the digital subscription model amongst the mainstream audience. Traditional newspapers tried but never truly succeeded. One of the subscription model’s success stories, Netflix, is looking to expand its offerings with N-Plus. For a little extra, subscribers will be able to access more content or behind-the-scenes action from their favourite shows. While others like AT&T and Discovery are quickly trying to keep up.

Is there a subscription limit?

While organisations who create content need a subscription model, what about social platforms that just provide a viewing platform? Would consumers be willing to pay for a service that has always been free of charge? Well, Twitter is about to find out. Twitter Blue is a subscription model offering unique functionality rather than unique content. It will be interesting to see what users value more.


Amazon is acquiring MGM for $8.45 billion.

This is a whole new chapter in the world of media consolidation. Distribution was the name of the game in the 1990s, and as distro costs go down to nearly zero, strength in IP is critical. Intellectual property = demand.

There are now two main schools of thought in the streaming wars of the 2020s:

1. Build and evolve your own IP (Netflix, Disney, WarnerMedia/Discovery)
2. Buy and remix the IP so you create something new (Amazon)

With this deal, $8.45 billion gets Amazon James Bond, Rocky, Creed, Vikings, Stargate, Survivor, and yikes, Silence of the Lambs. That’s small money for Amazon, which made $108 billion in revenue for Q1 of this year.

But the company has something that others don’t: purchasing data. They know just how much you spent on those Spiderman PJs, stormtrooper helmets, Thor’s axe, and your Bond martini shaker. Based on such proxy data, it’s able to extrapolate the value that can be unlocked by rebooting and remixing some of these older IPs. Maybe you’re in the market for a glow-in-the-dark Hannibal mask, for whatever reason.

Keep in mind that Amazon has been making its own originals since 2013. And it’s failed as far as demand creation goes. Apart from Jack Ryan, I can’t name any others that stand out for me. This acquisition, if regulators approve, is Amazon’s second chance at getting video right.

All of this will also help Amazon retain the stickiness of a Prime subscription, which is already an industry standard bearer. More than 90% of Prime members retain their subscription after one year.

One quick prediction: All of this leaves just a handful of loved IPs out there. I’m thinking of you, Lego. You’ll need a big strategic deal to take you through the next decade as the creative, lifestyle, and tech industries overlap.

Twitch is cutting prices for subscribers outside of the U.S.

This is all part of a push to capture a bigger global market. The number of subs in Asia is about half that of North America, so there’s plenty of new ground. The Amazon-owned company will launch a yearlong guaranteed revenue program to help offset the lower margins for streamers.

Google News Showcase launched in India.

Thirty Indian news publishers such as The Hindu and NDTV are on board. That’s great, except it’ll be hard stumbling on these, which are found in panels buried in Google News and on Discover. Never heard of it? Exactly.

Clubhouse’s Android app is slowly making its way to non-U.S. markets.

They’re promising to hit all countries by the end of this week.

The Information hired 22 people in the last year to build out its newsletter business.

The goal is to reach “hundreds of thousands” of subscribers from the “tens of thousands” that the company has today (it wouldn’t say specifically how many).

Coinbase will reportedly start its own media team.

They’re hiring an editor reporting to the marketing team.

Bloomberg is putting Odd Lots, one of my favourite podcasts, behind its subscription paywall.

It’s one of their most popular podcasts and seems to resonate with a non-traditional audience — non-bankers and younger folks (like me!). The subscription will also take Odd Lots beyond podcasts and into daily blogs, weekly newsletters, and oddly, show transcripts (seems to be a bit of demand for those). There’s plenty of upside opportunity — 75% of its listeners aren’t Bloomberg subscribers yet.

“I think that the reader revenue model has been great for journalism. I think it forces you to think about your community in a way that an ad revenue model doesn’t.”

We’re running a reader revenue mini-series with Jane Mahoney of Private Media in Australia. It’s every week on Splice Pink. A Splice podcast

Now that it’s exacted payments from Google and Facebook, News Corp says it’s going to hire 100 new editorial staff in Australia.

These would be spread across digital local and regional mastheads. This couldn’t be more different from where News Corp Australia was this time last year when it closed 100 print publications and cut up to 1,000 jobs.

China is finding a bigger voice on Twitter, according to new research.

All done through an army of fake accounts retweeting Chinese diplomats and state media.

South Korea’s Kakao Entertainment is buying U.S.-based comic app Tapas and the serialised fiction app Radish.

Korean companies have been seeking a bigger footprint in the U.S. as Korean soft power reaches a global scale.


The New York Times is reportedly in talks to buy The Athletic.

This is yet another interesting lens into the modern media space of 2021. We have a media startup, cash-fed by VCs to pick up community sports reporters, eventually getting gobbled up by NYT, the most powerful transformed media entity.

But look at the math. The Athletic raised about $140 million and is valued at about half a billion dollars as of its last funding round. The company has about 1.2 million subscribers, employs 600 people (400 in editorial alone), and generates $80 million in revenue. And it isn’t profitable. Jobs will have to be lost in an acquisition.

German media conglomerate Axel Springer is reportedly in talks to acquire Axios.

A deal could value Axios at around $400 million to $450 million.

Australia’s ABC closed content deals with Google and Facebook.

This is part of the media-bargaining code that became law in February designed to force tech companies to pay for the right to display publisher content on their platforms. ABC says it will use the funds (none of the parties said how much) to invest in regional and rural services.

Yahoo and AOL were sold again — now for $5 billion.

Amazingly, someone thinks they can still squeeze more juice out of those properties without actually transforming them. That new lemon squeezer is Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm (yes, it’ll all end in tears). Honestly, the businesses weren’t all that bad. It generated $7 billion in revenue last year — and yet was sold off at under 1x revenue. It was a costly adventure for Verizon with an implied 34% drop in the value of the businesses it acquired from 2015. Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said the media assets have potential but required “full investment and the right resources” — obviously not the kind of work that a telco would do. I can’t see a PE firm doing that either.

Forbes is reportedly considering going public through a merger with a SPAC.

The company is currently owned by Hong Kong-based Integrated Whale Media Investments.

Australia’s Seven West Media says it signed multi-year content deals with Facebook and Google.

“These partnerships have been made possible by the introduction of the Media Bargaining Code,” said Seven CEO James Warburton. I still call it extortion. It didn’t say how much money it was able to squeeze out of the platforms.

Singapore’s Mediacorp started a creator accelerator program.

It wants to help IP development as well as monetisation.


Facebook’s looking for an Integrity Program and Partner Specialist.

This is a maternity backfill to support Facebook Journalism Project’s initiatives across the Asia Pacific.

Google News Initiative is running free verification workshops.

These are meant for university students, journalists, and fact checkers across Asia, covering seven languages: English, Bahasa Indonesia, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, and Thai.

Bloomberg is looking for Chinese editors to join the team in Beijing.

You’ll translate and edit short- and long-form research pieces produced by the company’s analysts.

Reuters wants an editor to cover breaking news from China.

The role is based in Beijing. Chinese language skills are an “advantage” though not required.

Facebook Journalism Project has partnered with Reuters to launch the Reuters Digital Journalism Course.

The program aims to support journalists across the Asia Pacific and India, and will be available in five languages — English, Thai, Sinhala, and Indonesian.

YouTube has a new creator program for independent journalists.

If you’re a media entrepreneur or freelancer, this is a great way to learn how to get started on YouTube. The program offers training on YouTube best practices, video production, and entrepreneurship. There are also “grants to fuel capabilities, and access to dedicated support from specialists.”


Just how important is rural media for Australia?

BBC has a superb profile of Koori Mail. For 30 years, the paper has been reporting on Aboriginal Australia and is read by some 100,000 people. “Positive stories about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people doing great things — innovations, starting their own companies, fashion labels, artists doing amazing things, authors. Those types of positive stories tend to get ignored in the mainstream, but they’re our bread and butter.”

Australia’s ABC News says it met the BBC’s international 50:50 Project challenge of equal gender representation of interviewees and commentators in March.

The ABC had 51% female voices, with three-quarters of the 48 participating editorial teams achieving 50:50 or better. How about a challenge on racial representation too?

A UN report on online violence against women journalists blamed social media platforms for failing to respond quickly or effectively.

“Their policies mean that women are left to be first responders to the growing levels of violence against them.” The report surveyed 901 women from 125 countries and features in-depth case studies of Carole Cadwalladr and our friend Maria Ressa.


You can now hide the number of Likes on your Facebook and Instagram posts.

The intent is to create a healthier space that’s less competitive and less anxiety inducing (chasing Likes and popularity on social media can cause depression, especially in younger users). But of course there are market dynamics at play as well: There’s an emerging set of social media rivals like Minutiae and Poparazzi that want to help people engage with their friends without the stress of popularity points.

IG launched a new section for product drops called, er, Drops.

This feature will help sellers create buzz for upcoming product launches.

Mailchimp is moving far beyond just emails.

“Do it all with Mailchimp” is how they’re positioning themselves as they add new functionality like websites + online stores + appointment scheduling. New table stakes in the creator economy. If you’re in publishing, you should be thinking hard about how to use these new features.

And Netflix is moving beyond binge videos.

Netflix now wants to be the “Netflix” of games.

AT&T’s acquisition of WarnerMedia five years ago was pretty dumb.

Even more so at its $85 billion price tag. The assumption back then was that adding content — premium household names like CNN and HBO — to a telco could help the latter sell more broadband plans (Verizon did the same with AOL and Yahoo). We now know better. So Warner is now spinning off to merge with Discovery, which would be in a better position to compete against Netflix and Disney. Bundling, unbundling, bundling. That’s how value is created in media IP.

Amazon gets it.

It’s reportedly in talks to acquire MGM for $9 billion. That’s a massive library: James Bond, Hobbit, Survivor, Shark Tank. This might be a safe bet for Amazon, which already has a base of 200 million paid Prime customers worldwide.

What we’ve got here are two different understandings of what content distribution means.

AT&T figured it was already laying down the pipes and wiring, so why not pump content through it? For digital-first Amazon, the world is already wired and internet distribution is practically free, so why not focus on the other thing: demand. Ben Thompson does a spectacular job explaining the difference.

Twitter’s upcoming subscription service is reportedly named ‘Blue’.

Jane Manchun Wong, who’s been great at peering under the covers of apps, says Twitter will charge $3 a month for the service, which will bundle features like saving tweets, ad-free articles, and a way to undo a Tweet. Just give us a way to edit our typos already!

Substack has been trying to build a community around itself.

They previously used a little consulting company called People & Co. to work on fellowship and mentorship programs. Now Substack is acquiring them.

For parents, Roblox is both cause for sanity (when you need a break from those little people) and insanity (when they keep bugging you for more Robux).

Kids spent almost 10 million hours on Roblox in Q1 this year. Compare that with 6 billion hours on Twitch, and you’ll see why Digiday is calling this “one of the most important media businesses of the future”.

Apple seems to be willing to do just about anything to be in China.

A NYT report shows how the company has given in to demands for personal data (stored on servers run by a state-owned Chinese firm in Guiyang and Inner Mongolia) and supports the government’s censorship of the Chinese version of the App Store. It even removed the “Designed by Apple in California” slogan on the back of the iPhone.

Big win for accessibility.

Spotify is going to start machine transcriptions of certain original shows in the coming weeks. You’ll be able to read the transcript — and jump directly to that point in the audio by just tapping it.

Facebook’s Oversight Board upheld the January suspension of Donald Trump’s account.

But it also called on FB to review this suspension in six months. On the surface, it looks like a half-assed response, but going deeper, you’ll see the OB scolding Facebook for its ad-hoc ban on Trump, saying it is “not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension.” Elegant legal phrasing there. In doing so, the OB managed to skirt the question at hand: Is it fair to block a politician from using the world’s most powerful privately run platform, and at what cost? Tune in six months from now for the answer.

Are platforms partisan? Sure. Just look at Substack.

“Not only has Substack stopped being software hiding in the background for people to build their own brand, but being on Substack has for some become a tacit sign of being a partisan in the culture wars, not least because it’s a lot easier to build a devoted and paying following by stressing that you’re giving readers something the mainstream won’t.”

Ok, Twitter is REALLY serious about its subscription strategy.

It acquired Scroll, a media startup that gives you an ad-free experience on select media sites while charging you a fee for it (that gets split with the publishers). Twitter is on track to building out a premium subscription service, where presumably paid subs will be able to read articles ad-free, as well as get access to newsletters (through Twitter’s recent acquisition of Revue).

The sad thing about all of this is that Nuzzel, which is owned by Scroll, has been shut down.

Twitter says that it will “bring the core elements of Nuzzel directly to Twitter over time.”

Twitter is expanding Spaces so that more people can start using it.

If you have 600 or more followers, you can start hosting your own audio space. New features are also available — multiple co-hosts, paid sessions, and scheduling reminders.

Clubhouse is paying creators to start 50 audio shows on the platform.

Participants will get a $5K-a-month stipend for three months, and some hardware and creative support to get started. And if it’s really good, Clubhouse will sign some of them for a longer term.

Creator funds are now table stakes for any new social platform.

YouTube launched a $100 million fund to pay people to make YouTube Shorts. TikTok and Snapchat have been doing something similar.

Facebook is testing a little pop-up that will ask if you’re sure you want to re-share that article that you didn’t even open.

This is something that Twitter started doing a year ago. The little nudge is helpful — unless of course you’ve already read the article somewhere else and that little bit of tech is trying to guilt-shame you for being irresponsible.

Clubhouse is finally launching on Android.

Well, not really; it’s only in the U.S. for now. You can sense the anxiety — Clubhouse’s download numbers have plummeted now that every other platform has started rolling out live audio rooms. Speed matters when everyone’s copying you.

A German regulator ordered Facebook to stop processing data from WhatsApp.

The provincial Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection said Facebook’s plans to modify WhatsApp’s terms of service are illegal under Europe’s data privacy laws.

Instagram for kids.

Attorneys general from 44 U.S. states and territories have written to Mark Zuckerberg urging him to drop his plans.


Privacy is a great product, except now it gets to also be an end-user product.

The first-party cookie makes its debut, and this is clearly going to make a difference in how business models work. Will you pay a premium for your privacy, or will you consent to being the product in exchange for free, tracker product usage? At least now you will have some choice in the matter. “The future is consented. It’s modeled. It’s first-party.”


The Twitter product team is on fire. They’re launching a thing called ‘Ticketed Spaces’ with Stripe.

Twitter launched Spaces, its live social audio earlier this month, and this monetisable extension is going to be great for creators to generate revenue from their audiences. Twitter wants 20% of your take (after Apple and Google take their platform fees from in-app purchase sales). What live audio would your audiences pay for?

The product folks on Google Workspace are also kicking things up a notch.

I noticed strange new things afoot while I was writing this in Google Docs. A new icon appeared that said I could ‘Present to a meeting’ if I so desired, but that there were ‘no upcoming meetings in my calendar today’. (A newsletter as a live presentation? Now there’s a thought.) They’re working with what they’re calling “smart chips” to make Docs, Tasks, and Meet work better together. So you know how you can @ someone in a Doc? That’s a smart chip, and now you can use it for a person, a Slides deck or another Doc, or even a calendar event. It’s all part of the Google smart canvas they’ve been talking about for a while. This means you’d be able to start a Meet call from within Docs, or share your Doc in a Meet chat. If all of this new interoperability aims to wean you off your current productivity tools like Zoom, Slack, and Notion, it could really work. But one important new feature of Google Docs? The departure from that A4/Letter page which assumes you care about printer paper formats. This is 2021 — welcome to “pageless” view, Docs. (Now all Notion needs to do is acquire a video chat feature and boom — the productivity wars are game on.)

Netflix is expanding into video games.

We know this because they’re looking to hire someone to oversee the expansion into gaming. The pandemic has meant that the video gaming industry has surged. This also feels like a logical extension of the Netflix brand. They have done a few experiments with the format in the past. Did you play through all the options a few years ago when they launched Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, where you could decide some of the characters’ next moves? They also created some games based on Stranger Things and Money Heist. I’m wondering how much of a threat to the mainstream gaming industry this could be, but if anybody has the muscle and staying power, it’s Netflix.

Your Android phone will soon be your new TV remote.

And because there are over 80 million TVs out there that run Android OS, your phone-remote can control them. Will this be better than the Apple TV remote? Yes, because we know anything is better than that Apple TV remote.

Buried treasure is a bizarre but amazing way to promote your product.

What about an NFT? In the 1950s, the San Francisco Chronicle hid a wooden box of ‘treasure’ in the city, causing readers to dig holes around the city in search of a $1,000 prize. (Due to random hole-digging being illegal, this isn’t much of a thing any longer.) In the 1880s, the Chronicle offered pistols as an annual subscription giveaway prize. (Also possibly illegal due to random holes in people.) But the Chronicle has moved on to a different sort of treasure: the ubiquitous NFT, which they’re offering specific to a page called Best Bay Area Views Guide. “The buyer gets the NFT and the power to remove the paywall on the page, making the guide to some of the region’s top outdoor spots free for everyone, forever.” I love the idea that readers of a media org can support the community in this way. (Does it have to be an NFT, though? What if I just want to sponsor an article because, well, 1. it makes people feel good, 2. it makes me feel good, and 3. the media org makes well-earned revenue. It’s like paying taxes to support kids going to school — even if you don’t have kids. Everybody wins. Also known as: we’re in this media thing together. What do you think? Would something like this be workable in your community?

Twitter is thinking of a paid service called Twitter Blue.

For $3 (technically $2.99 but I am allergic to deceptive .99-type pricing (TIL: did you know it was called ‘charm pricing’? Pricing with rounded figures is called ‘prestige pricing’.)) you get to undo a Tweet Gmail-style and organise your bookmarked Tweets into Collections. A higher pricing tier may offer more features like a clutter-free news experience, made possible because of Twitter’s recent acquisition of Scroll. Will a paid subscription go all Guardian and remove advertising? Also “I wonder if paid accounts will get preferential treatment by the algorithm. That could be messy.”

Substack acquired People & Company.

What do you do when you build a newsletter platform? You build a community of newsletter writers. The logical next step is to buy a company that specialises in building community. Enter People & Co. The idea is to have them “accelerate and celebrate writer success” on Substack. This will include building stuff for Substack’s writers, like workshops, meetups, training, and parties, as well as adding muscle to services like legal support, health insurance, image libraries, and design. This is growing beyond a tool on the web into… the closest version of an online co-living, co-working space I’ve seen. I really like their framing: “Being independent shouldn’t mean being alone.”

You probably already know what Lego sounds like.

Now — bizarrely — you can get the album. “Although the seven tracks, which each run to half an hour in length, are different in their granular details, essentially they were made by Lego pieces being poured out of tubs, sifted through and clicked together.” I’m listening to a track called Wild as the Wind as I write this, and it has what sounds like crickets in the background, but the main sound is masses and masses of what are clearly tiny Lego bricks being poured gratuitously in undulating waves. It’s all weirdly soothing (and I’m not an ASMR fan, although I do like white noise when I sleep). The other tracks are called Built For Two, The Waterfall (literally a steady 30-minute wall of sound of the demolition of a construction site made entirely of Lego), Searching for the One (Brick), It All Clicks, Big Hearted Bricks, and the vaguely ominous-sounding The Night Builder. I suspect the follow-up album will be a thrash metal version of people screaming in pain after stepping on a brick that damn Night Builder left on the floor.

WhatsApp isn’t just a chat app — it’s a platform, innit.

“Startups are also delivering non-commerce core services through WhatsApp, at times using its chat function without actually chatting.” So many products-within-a-product:

  • Bot MD uses it for remote health monitoring
  • Outside Voice uses it for market survey and data collection
  • Sampingan uses it to provide more workers with jobs
  • Sama uses it to match migrant workers to employers — and bypass employment agents and their fees
  • Sova Health uses it to match people with geneticists and nutritionists for personalised health advice

See, the point here isn’t that it should be another WeChat-esque super-app. The most inventive use of it is something I’m calling WhatsHack. “This is a story of innovation—what tech disruption with human-centric design looks like when it doesn’t break the wheel of people’s behaviour, but rather rolls with it. Even if it means making the best [use] of a technology in a way it was not intended to be used.” Hack WhatsApp. Help people. Profit. Win.

The latest media product blowing my mind? Google spreadsheets.

We’ve seen newsletters. Slack channels. Slide decks (Quartz does those). Would you buy a spreadsheet? It’s a thing. Gumroad, a popular online marketplace, has seen “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in sales for spreadsheet products. Better Sheets sells for a one-time fee of $49. Newsletter OS, with Notion spreadsheets and templates, also sells for $49. (The maker also has another product called Podcast OS.) Spread the World, an Airtable of hundreds of startup links, sells for…you guessed it…$49. It’s a simple, solid idea: “Every project starts in Google Sheets.”

Axios launched a gaming newsletter.

Such a great idea. “Keep up with the multi-billion dollar video gaming universe, from the hottest games to the most interesting studios and players.” I have a serious case of sour grapes because this is something we’ve been thinking about doing at Splice for a while now.


Sorry Calibri, your time is up.

You’ve had 15 years as Microsoft’s default font, and it’s been quite the ride. Apart from the fact that you squabble with my Mac devices when I open people’s PowerPoints, I have nothing against you personally. But it looks like your bae Microsoft is done with you. (This bit from their breakup text is revealing: “Calibri has been the default font for all things Microsoft since 2007, when it stepped in to replace Times New Roman across Microsoft Office. It has served us all well, but we believe it’s time to evolve.”) Even your parent, designer Luc de Groot, says “It’s a relief” and that he designed you in “quite a hurry.” Harsh. They’re crowdsourcing the hunt for their next swipe-right, and the shortlist is in. They’re called Tenorite, Bierstadt, Skeena, Seaford, and Grandview. Like you, they’re all sans-serif, geometric, and humanist; clearly, Microsoft has a type.


Microsoft has updated its system icons.

This is the first update to the icons since the ‘90s. Those are the ones that appear in that scary System32/shell.dll library (you know the one I mean) for hibernation mode, networking, memory, floppy drives, and the like. A quick look at the before and after screens in the story indicate that, so far, the updated icons aren’t quite the “sweeping visual rejuvenation of Windows” that the company is calling this, but perhaps there’s more to come.

Let’s face it: the UX experience for small children is pretty terrible.

This user tries to “find ways to incorporate data-driven design elements to create a more compatible user-centered child experience.” Until then, it looks like the High-pitched Screaming bug will persist.

How’s your landing page looking working?

The point is to make them convert: what do you want your web page to do? Make a sale? Turn readers into subscribers? Subscribers into paying customers? These tips from someone who has audited a few landing pages in his life are full of solid advice you could probably implement right now. Some of my faves are

  • Make your H1 count
  • Stop with the clever headlines; just be clear
  • Social proof counts beyond just a logo wall
  • Use images only if they add to the story (yes, I’m looking at you, silly little web thumbnail-confetti)
  • Sometimes the best design begins with page speed. A slow load will lose your audience before they even get to your product.

“Guy who invented the clock: there will be 12 numbers on it
Friend: so the day will be divided into 12 segments?
Inventor: no, 24
Friend: so will the day start at 1
Inventor: the day will start at the 12, which is at night
Inventor: the 6 means 30”

We don’t really get on TikTok — or social media — for narrative or storytelling or personality. We’re there for the vibe.

“Vibes are a medium for feeling, the kind of abstract understanding that comes before words put a name to experience.” Yup — ambience. But on social media, we mean an “audiovisual eloquence”, or a “sympathetic resonance between a person and her environment”. When Nathan Apodaca sailed wildly — but so smoothly — down the road on his skateboard chugging cranberry juice to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’, that was vibe. More than 12 million people thought that was vibe. This reflection on the nature and provenance of vibe in the New Yorker is wonderful because it defines that abstract, elusive, untrackable quality that we connect with on our social media. Vibe is back, and is the most difficult user experience to design. “In some ways, the rise of digital life allowed for a vibe revival.” You can collect and curate them and share them, and most important of all, the internet — and TikTok — makes it possible to participate in them.

Instagram has made space for your pronouns.

You get to choose up to four pronouns in the brand-new Pronouns field, but interestingly, you have to choose from a list and can’t type in your own. It seems to be early days yet so it’s in only in the U.S. and a few other countries so far; I checked but don’t have the feature yet (I answer to he/him).

Here’s how user interface design evolved over 40 years.

That’s right: this is your chance to revisit the UX design of your distant youth with path-breaking clunkers such as the Apple Lisa office System 1 from 1983, Visicorp Visi On, and the crazy world of Windows 95. Such a great visual thread.


The New York Times newsroom has 1,700 people. What do you do to train them on your CMS? Tooltips.

Luckily, they also have NDS, or the Newsroom Development & Support team, an entire department dedicated to this situation. So when the NYT installed their Oak CMS system in 2019, everybody needed training. The NDS team did this in person at first, but this left less time for training in story formats, adaptability to breaking news situations, visual story-making, and other skills. They solved this problem the way any great software has taught us right from when we first got our hands on it: good old helper text, tooltips, and best practice hints, all right inside the CMS itself. So they’ve got detailed context-specific best practice guidance for headlines, SEO headlines (yes, these are two separate things); for summaries; for section tags, and so on. I do love a good best practice tip.

“People tend to think that cameras are objective.” Spoiler: Nope.

But how do you build one that is more equitable? For a camera to see more objectively, it must overcome the historical biases that camera technologies have been burdened with, “leading to tools that haven’t seen people of color as they want and ought to be seen.” So how do you correct for skin colour bias in a machine?

Step 1: Be Google.
Step 2: Realise it’s 2021 and it’s time to fix how people of colour show up in the images we take, commission, process, direct, and remix.
Step 3: Work with a huge team of industry experts that include photographers, cinematographers, artists, and colourists. AI is made by humans, people. Frankly, I’m delighted.

Any Photoshop users here?

If, like me, you still use Photoshop to process your images, you will already know that its new Save As menu functionality is screen-smash-inducing. As of the latest macOS update, Photoshop 22.4 has turned the venerable Save As function into some new hellish abomination which won’t just allow you to pick a flat file format like JPG or PNG like it’s been doing for over 20 years. You now have to go to Save a Copy instead. Adobe says it’s all Apple’s fault because they removed the API. Users say don’t mess with the Photoshop crowd — we’re usually a hardcore bunch of grumpy keyboard shortcutters, and adding extra clicks to the workflow is going to mess with some minds. But as with most things, we’ll get over it.


There’s a new book on Arab graphic design out, and it sounds exciting.

A History of Arab Graphic Design is about the people, events, and communities that shaped design in the Arab world, and I really want it. It wasn’t a simple project for the authors Bahia Shehab and Haytham Nawar to build out. “In the Arab world, archiving is a hurdle for several reasons.” One of those reasons is that designers “are fleeing wars, civil unrest, invasions, and colonialism. They are too busy and preoccupied to worry about the legacy of their own work.” Interestingly, the book doesn’t pretend to be a comprehensive study, mainly because the ‘Arab world’ is about 420 million people across multiple cultures and histories. “in Morocco and Algeria for instance, Arabic is “almost eradicated” because of French colonialism.” That said, the book doesn’t limit its scope to the geography of the Arab world, so there’s a whole chapter on the designers of the diaspora. The thumbnails and images look incredibly rich and complex and multilayered, and I can’t wait to get my hands on this thing. “Designers and calligraphers are the shapers of collective memories, and that’s very important.”

Wait, did you want ten years of infographic design from the South China Morning Post in one single animated GIF?

What a coincidence — me too!


How big is the world’s largest iceberg?

4,320 square kilometers, or 170 kilometres long and 25 kilometres wide. Or… just stick it on your country and see for yourself. (It’s more than four Singapores big.) Zeit worked some simple data viz magic and translated that into this great visual experience. (The story is in German, so remember to say “Eisberg”, not “iceberg”.) Thanks for the link, Ellen!

This child made a food web infographic.

In Minecraft. I’m waiting for the version of the future where cities, homes, workplaces, and cultures are going to be made better by this generation of Minecrafters. I’ve never met a Minecrafter I didn’t like, and this one seems no different.


Quick pointer on how to decide whether your new media website design works: test for accessibility.

This is a great way to make sure your text is readable against backgrounds in combinations that may not have enough contrast. Now if only somebody could make a Diversitymeter that will tell you whether your website has enough diversity and representation.


Xiaomi redesigned their logo.

They hired Kenya Hara, the legendary Muji designer, for an alleged 2 million yuan (over $300,000)…and got squircled in return. (A squircle is a square with very round corners.) While there is a tempting misconception that the transformation of a brand should follow the old principle of more bang for more buck, let’s make space for the idea that branding can also be about subtle shifts and nuanced evolution. That said: hahahahaha — I mean that’s $75,000 per corner. Xiaomi’s CEO Lei Jun spoke at length about the rebrand and said “a major shift in Xiaomi’s inner spirit and personality.” Right. One commenter on social media nailed it: “It took a minute to do the design and an hour to get Lei sold on the idea. The rest of the time was spent on building a story.” I wish I could have been a fly on the wall at the client presentations.

Here’s a blast from the past: this British Airways billboard with a kid pointing — and tracking — planes flying overhead.

This thing is from 2013 but still an amazingly inventive piece of work. Also — remember travel?


Wait, are you still a journalist without a proper website in 2021?

I’m…impressed. But there is hope: I’ve just discovered Authory. Sorry if this sounds markety — I’m not being paid to promote them or anything — but this thing automatically imports and backs up your articles, can turn your readers into subscribers, and will give you social media insights. But its second-best feature is that it will automatically update your page when you publish a new story. Best feature of all? They have an endorsement from the NYT star journo David Pogue.

Google is getting into the remittance business.

GPay can now be used to send money from the U.S. to India and Singapore. An easy way to help you pay your freelancers on time.

If you’re a freelancer, you really should have a better way to manage your articles.

Authory is worth checking out — it imports all your previous work across publishers, and it’ll also add your new articles wherever they’re published.

Repurposing content

Content marketing can be exhausting. How much content is enough? The key to keeping a steady flow of messaging and engaging over multiple channels is repurposing your content. Your audience consumes content on multiple platforms so your marketing efforts need to be there too. Fortunately evergreen content, short edits from long-form videos and infographics for detailed reports are some of the ways to extend the life of your content.

Exposure matters

Repurposing content essentially sends out the same message, which creates the mere exposure effect. Put simply, the more you hear or see something the more you like it. There’s also the rule of seven, which states that consumers need to be exposed to a marketing message seven times before committing to a purchase.

A better use of resources

If you want to increase your brand’s exposure you need more marketing assets. This is something that takes time and resources. Many marketers claim to spend between 10 and 20 hours a week producing visual content while B2B marketers estimate it takes 60 hours a month to produce just four assets. Compare this to an author who picked up 20,000 subscribers in six months by simply uploading old blog posts on Medium.

Could big tech regulation be upon us?

Probably not, but there are some signs of regulation. Last week Facebook’s Oversight Board (journalists, lawyers and activists appointed by the platform) upheld the social media’s ban of Trump. Trump responded by calling the major social media sites corrupt. It’s a view shared by many on the right who accuse the platforms of bias against their side despite right leaning pages accounting for 45% of interactions on Facebook last year.

Moves in China

While US tech firms are attempting self-regulation, in China the Government is stepping in. Last week 11 tech firms were fined for failing to get regulatory approval for past acquisitions or joint-venture deals. This comes after Alibaba was fined a record S$3.69 billion for violating the same antitrust laws. Clearly, Beijing doesn’t want big tech getting too big.

Data protection on the cards too

China’s Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL) – aimed to tighten rules around how personal data is collected – is another attempt to curb the power of big tech. Data privacy has become a global issue and the regulation moves by Beijing could be seen as a way to compete with the US (which have no data privacy laws) and become a tech superpower.

Getting emotional

If you want people to pay attention to your message, they need to care about it. People only care about things they have some sort of emotional attachment to. (Sorry to be so blunt.) This is why emotional content is so important in marketing. Put simply, emotional content is more likely to be shared, engaged with, feel authentic and encourage action by the audience.

Why emotions are important

You’d expect humans to act rationally but we don’t. Emotions get the better of us, even when it comes to marketing. A study by the UK-based Institute of Practitioners in Advertising found that purely emotional marketing performed twice as well as rational based messaging (31% v 16%). Humans are emotional creatures first.

What emotions should we focus on?

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as happy messages will be shared and sad ones won’t. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that activating emotions — ones that fire you up — are more likely to encourage a consumer reaction. Depending on your brand, this could involve good and bad emotions. Excitement and inspiration can be just as effective as disgust when it comes to tapping into activating emotions.

Monetising content

It may come as a surprise but consumers are willing to pay for content. It’s not just streaming services either. Traditional media outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian have built a reasonable subscription-based audience. Most news outlets haven’t been able to attract such a large audience and are increasingly looking at e-commerce aka publisher commerce content for revenue.

Why do people pay for content?

The Reuters Institute conducted a survey to understand what motivated people to pay for content, specifically news. Generally, the reasons were distinctive and unique content, the convenience of access, value and benefit to society. If the content feels important and useful to the consumer, they’re willing to pay.

Paying through social channels

The big social platforms realise users are willing to pay for content — they just don’t want to pay the platforms themselves. Clubhouse makes it easy for audiences to send money to their favourite creators. Meanwhile, Facebook has noticed the success of Substack and is integrating a similar feature into Pages so journalists can be paid for their work. While it may feel like the overload of content available to consumers makes them ambivalent, there are still revenue opportunities.

Spotify launched paid podcast subscriptions

Podcasters will be able to mark specific episodes as “subscriber-only” content. It’ll be the U.S. market for now, with international expansion in the next few months. The magic is in its rev share — Spotify won’t be taking a cut from podcasters for the next two years, and will impose a mere 5% fee in the third year. Compare this with Apple’s plan to take a 30% cut for the first year, and halving that for the second.

So yes, the podcast wars have started

We’re quickly moving away from the open — and free — format of podcasting to paywalled content.

Another war has also started. Apple rolled out its biggest privacy feature to date in its iOS 14.5 update, which allows people to turn off behaviour tracking and third-party sharing

This is great for consumers and Apple — but undermines apps that rely on tracking, eg. Facebook, Instagram, and Google. It’ll also harm small publishers who depend on targeting to get their content out to the right people. Let’s see. My hunch is that most people don’t care about privacy as much as we think.

Apple and Facebook couldn’t be more far apart on privacy

Tim Cook thinks people will pay a premium for privacy on the web, while Mark Zuckerberg wants to keep things free by having you as the product.

Some big updates from Telegram

You can now schedule voice chats (Telegram’s “Clubhouse”). You can also send money — the app now accepts credit card payments natively (great for tipping creators and your favourite media orgs!).

Btw, these Telegram people are on a roll

Telegram also announced standalone web access so you can use it in a browser — without having to download an app. Before you say this isn’t amazing, remember that rivals WhatsApp and Signal both require you to have the app installed on the phone to connect. Really annoying. But with no downloads or installs needed, Telegram Web is one of the safest ways for journalists to communicate, especially if you’re at risk of having your phone seized.

Twitter is apparently testing a tipping function in the app

You can send money through PayPal, Venmo, or even Bandcamp. Yet more monetisation options for creators.

You see where all of this is going — more opportunities for creators, more ways to monetise

The same trend is happening in the e-commerce space. Just look at Mailchimp. What started as a newsletter business is now helping entrepreneurs build online stores.

Btw, the Membership Puzzle Project’s Membership Guide is a gold mine for all this knowledge

Except there’s just too much in there. So the MPP folks have now turned it into an email newsletter course you can take.

Everyone and their dog saw this coming

Verizon, which made an expensive multi-billion dollar adventure into media in 2015, wants to sell off its media assets that includes Yahoo and AOL. It may fetch about $5 billion, according to the WSJ. Private equity firm Apollo Global Management is reportedly keen to pick up these hot potatoes.

World Press Freedom Day is on Monday

Use the #FollowLocalJournalists hashtag — one good way to recognise the important work that local journalists are doing in places like Myanmar. Btw, the hashtags #FollowLocalJournalists, #WorldPressFreedomDay, #WPFD, #WPFD2021 and #PressFreedom will all activate a special emoji on Twitter.

World Press Freedom Day on Monday is shaping up to be a busy one

Meedan is bringing together a panel to discuss emerging threats to journalists and press freedom.

Coincidentally, GIJN has a training session on advanced search on Monday

“You will learn techniques for digging up information online, finding people and bringing back information deleted from the web.” It features translation into Hindi, Urdu, and Indonesian.

ABUdigital2021 is on May 26-27

They have nearly 20 speakers (including Rishad Patel!) in a program that includes talks on how new digital experiences, products, audiences, and strategies are shaping the world of media.

The Chinese online version of the WSJ is looking for a web editor in its Beijing office

The person will be required to write “accurate and attractive headlines and summaries”.

The Online News Association is accepting applications for the MJ Bear Fellowships

The fellowships will cover registration fees for this year’s ONA conference in June. Fellows also receive three online coaching sessions and an ONA membership.

Some brilliant tips here on how to conduct Zoom interviews

I love that this is #1 on the list (a nod to all the fellow introverts out there): “Focusing on the screen causes wear and tear for both the journalist and the interview subject. It’s not always necessary to see each other to conduct an interview.”

If you’re freelancing, it helps to get the mindset right

Here’s a good tip: “I stopped using the phrase, ‘outlets I freelance for.’ I refer to these outlets as my clients. This has placed more control in my hands, while also building self-confidence.”

Podcast advertising

Everyone knows podcasts have been growing in popularity. Whether it’s true crime, long-form interviews, comedy, political panel discussion or storytelling everyone has a favourite. For marketers, this means new opportunities to reach consumers. For many, podcasts are uncharted territory, so what’s the most engaging tactic? We look at the different advertising formats and how to pick the right podcast for your campaign.

Why podcasts matter

In the age of content overload, the fact that listeners are willing to give up an hour of their day to listen to a podcast means the format and hosts are connecting. The hosts form a connection with listeners and studies have found this trust extends to brands advertising on the podcast. The ads read by the hosts appear to increase emotive engagement and stick in the listener’s memory.

Spotify driving podcast advertising

Spotify understood the appeal of podcasts early on, adding them to its streaming services back in 2018. Earlier this year, they launched the Spotify Audience Network that gave marketers more control over campaign management and the ability to better target listeners. The company is also giving more power to podcasters with its subscription service, meaning episodes can be marked for subscribers only. It’s early days yet but already this medium is creating new opportunities for content creators and marketers.

The rise of audio influencers

The growing popularity of podcasts has seen a rise in audio influencers. You don’t have to be in front of a camera to influence, being behind a microphone can have the same effect. Social audio-chat app Clubhouse has further shone a light on audio influencers with brands and marketers looking for talent on the platform. This popularity has also led to the formation of the Audio Collective — a group of professional hosts offering support to Clubhouse creators.

The influencer appeal

Spotify understands the appeal of the audio influencer and has been spending big bucks to attract big names. Barack and Michelle Obama as well as Joe Rogan have all signed exclusive deals with Spotify to produce audio content. Even DC Comics has penned a deal. Obviously, Spotify believes these deals are worth the expense as they attract more subscribers to the streaming platform.

Audio copycats

One sure sign you’ve hit the right note with users is when other social platforms replicate your product. LinkedIn recently joined Facebook and Twitter in launching an audio social offering. The social-employment platform hopes to differentiate its product by connecting it to a user’s professional profile. One might argue the line between social and professional is increasingly blurred these days.

Interesting Marketing Video to Watch

Working closely with Prudential, we brought its Sustainability Report 2020 alive with simple but effective animation. #DOSustainability

JBL Audio’s Sonic Stories series mixes animation and live-action for basketballer Candace Parker to share her motivational story.

Chinese electronics group and National Geographic explain how the colour red is becoming endangered in nature. #OPPOFindX3Pro​ #EndangeredColour

Rolex takes to the ocean to profile scientist Michel André, a pioneer of bioacoustics — understanding nature’s health by listening to it. #Rolex #PerpetualPlanet #RolexAwards

Halo Top desserts created a video expressing everyone’s true feelings when it comes to anything sweet.

Mailchimp has collated a series of documentaries that celebrate a range of entrepreneurs – from sushi chefs to video store owners.

Porsche takes the road less travelled on its Discover the Unknown series and this stunning road trip through Hungary. #discovertheunknown​ ​

News website Vox uses cut up animation to bring alive the talking heads in its Earworm series with an episode on a Black music radio phenomenon that emerged in 1976.

Cisco enlisted Coldplay’s Chris Martin to jump on a video conference call to speak and sing to students all over the world.

Workday pinpoints the main issue with remote working.

Utilising simple but striking animation, The Library of Economic Possibility shows how its database of difficult ideas and concepts can be easily understood.

The CureGRIN Foundation pairs excellent design with a parent’s voiceover to talk about children and rare genetic conditions.

Streaming service Deezer recreates the moment when you get lost in music while Brazilian e-commerce site Magalu lets you make a purchase at that same moment.

eBay tells the story of a self-confessed sneaker freak and how he turned his passion into a side business (and also kept his marriage together).

FedEx uses Willie Nelson’s ‘Always On My Mind’ to convince us that packaging and logistics are part of nature.

Magnati utilises branded animation to create a busy explainer that showcases all its payment solutions.

China payment solutions teamed up with the country’s Football Association to build a football pitch for school girls living in the mountain area of Yunnan Province. #football #soccer #girldream

Real-life stories don’t have to use real-life footage, as shown by CNN with this animation on surviving the global financial crisis.

Christian Slater reprises his role as the Wolf for HP’s security solutions in the age of pandemics and lockdowns.

As lockdowns ease, or in some cases are reinstated, Heineken believes we can all reunite for Euro 2020. #SupportResponsibly #Heineken #EURO2020

UPS highlights workplace diversity with a profile of Jake, an employee with Down Syndrome and a passion for golf.

Shell delivers another dramatic mini-doco on how AI was used to solve a 10-year long pump problem on a floating oil and gas rig.

Pepsi has announced the launch a new drink, Driftwell, that’s designed for relaxation with a bedtime story-inspired 2D animation.

Wix highlights the common problems users with disabilities encounter when it comes to buying a t-shirt online. As you’ll see, it can be very frustrating.

Setting up a Mailchimp online store is free — as long as you’re selling avocados (we think).