One thing that’s great about Todoist, the task app I use, is that it graphs your productivity over time. I only learned this today, however, when I started digging around in the app’s “karma” feature.

Here’s how my productivity looked during the period before and after Co.Labs launched at SXSW.

One amusing highlight for me is the amount of time spent “Waiting” for stuff, which is nearly as big as the amount of time spent on “Life.”

-chris

Co.Labs Is Coming Out Of Beta: What We’ve Learned Since Launch.

Since Co.Labs launched, we’ve been obsessed with tracking things. We’ve added additional analytics to our site and begun comparing the performance of our best stories to try to ascertain what we’re doing right. We’ll do a more detailed analytics post later, but here are some hypotheses we’re trying out in the coming weeks, based on our first 45 days of data.

Stories may need to be more tightly related to one another than most news outlets (including us) make them. We found that even on days where we were getting terrific traffic, there were still few people moving between articles; instead they’d pop in, read, and leave again.

What we’re trying: Our new Tracking stories are like a slow live-blog of an ongoing story. As news rolls in, our writers update the article with new entries, adding context or original reporting as they go. When potential for a longer story makes itself apparent, a reporter can branch off and do a separate post. They link back to the Tracking story to give the new article context.

Addressing all the distribution channels individually should include your homepage. Only a small percentage of our total traffic arrives through the homepage, but it’s still an important showpiece. This is where people go to get an overall idea of what the site is about, and it’s our best showcase for our articles.

But because our homepage is essentially just another distribution channel (along with RSS, Twitter, Facebook, App.net, Tumblr and Google+) it can’t be allowed to take up too much of your time—there are much bigger audiences to court on the social networks, and traffic is still how we make our money. Because of quirks in our CMS, not everything that appears there can necessarily be put into another distribution channel; our news links, for example, don’t appear in RSS. This means we need someone to pay special attention to it.

What we’re trying: Clay Andes, our editor at large, will be managing the scheduling and slating of the homepage, along with our daily and weekly newsletters, since there is some overlap there. We’ve also hired a freelance producer to help with some of the redudant production work necessitated by the quirky behavior of some of our posts when they’re viewed in other channels. Myself and Gabe Stein, our News Hacker slash Technical Editor, will be manning Twitter, Facebook, App.net, Tumblr and Google+ with the help of BufferApp and Tweriod.

A tighter schedule may mean more freedom. When interesting news breaks, every outlet wants to make a clever addition to the story. That usually requires time to think and call sources. But if you’re bogged down in cranking out pre-scheduled stories, you miss the boat.

What we’re trying: Writers will be updating their Tracking stories several times per week, slowly building up background on what we believe to be the top 20 stories developers and software teams should know about. Since this workflow is regular, we can automate some parts of it and get very good at others. Ideally, that leaves us free time during the day to work on longer-lede pieces, sure—but also to dig into social and be ready for whatever pops up next.

Some new tools we’re trying: We’re using Trello to manage story ideas and we’ve begun trialing GroupTie for discussing news and ideas. We’ll let you know how it goes.

-chris

why automation is the panacea for dying media (and how FastCo.Labs plans to survive)

You hear the refrain again and again that the media is becoming a conversation, or that social is a conversation. And that’s an apt metaphor because it puts a fine point on what effect software has had on the way we perceive big media.

Picture this: you are talking over coffee with intelligent person and you’re having a conversation of interest. Timidly the person withdraws an iPhone from their pocket and begins emailing away. Their faces down their hands in their lap discreetly below the top of the table and they mutters something like “keep going—I’m still interested.”

What’s so annoying to the victim of this scenario is the apparent failure on the behalf of this person to notice that a real-life person standing right in front of you is more of a priority then a person with whom you’re talking on a time delay. This is not so much an obvious breach of conversational etiquette as it is a logical failure in the brain of the person committing the act. Synchronous communication takes natural priority over asynchronous.

The more asynchronous the mode of communication on the phone, the more daft it seems to ignore a real-life person for it. This may be why it’s permissible to text while someone else is talking to you, but why it’s a sign of boredom if someone begins checking their email. Taking things to the next logical extension, cracking a book would be the ultimate sign of boredom.

The person ignoring you, and typing on their phone, is (in this analogy) a media company. You see, there are these conversations happening in all of these living networks all over the place where people are saying interesting things. Many of them, like conversations on Reddit, develop at incredible speed. And yet, for the most part, the editors of traditional media companies ignore these discussions in order to focus on media which they release at some delay.

The more sophisticated the production of the media, the longer the delay, and the more befuddled the media company appears. This is why web native publications move quickly, get readers and make money. And it’s the reason that print-book companies seem as clueless as chained goats.

You can’t possibly participate in the conversation and produce what I would call high-quality analysis, synthesis or reporting at the same time. The two big jobs for an editor, writer, reporter or videographer are reading the news and writing it. Neither half can be outsourced or delegated, although small parts can. Still, every minute we spend writing, instead of in social networks reading and talking to people that make the news, the further behind we are, and the further behind we sound.

The only answer is automating certain processes in our workflow in order to try to get some of that time back. That’s our only shot at survival. You’ll see posts from us in the future about things that were hacking together in-house to make this happen. At some point in the next year we hope to get to the point where producing and posting stories this as trivial as writing a tweet. The closer we get to this ideal, the more apt we will seem as a publishing organ and more credibility we will have. Moving fast decalcifies your whole image and it makes stuff feel alive. And the opposite of alive is, well, dead.

-chris
spring in NYC

spring in NYC

Tags: nyc