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Mobile is the status quo; voice will be the point of interaction

Oliver von Wersch ()

Publishers should stop talking about “mobile or mobile first”, says Oliver von Wersch, digital consultant for G+J in Germany, because today everything starts with mobile. Moreover, the next big transformation – voice user interfaces – is already on its way… and is “a big one” for publishers to focus on.

Oliver joined G+J a decade ago (he recently left his position as MD of Digital, but continues to consult for G+J on all matters digital). 

A year or so after he joined G+J the iPhone launched. That “changed everything”. Today, at least half of all interactions with G+J properties happen via mobile.

He spoke to FIPP contributor Felix Mago on the sidelines of the recent Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin, which he attended as a delegate. Apart from mobile, Oliver also touched on distributed content challenges and opportunities, as well as technologies that excite him most in the conversation.

Mobile is a mindset

Mobile is not a device; it is a whole new mindset dictating how users interact with one another and with content, according to Oliver. And this also dictates the types of content publishers should produce.

If publishers have a development strategy using “mobile first” as mantra today, they are five years too late, he says. Everything today should be underpinned by mobile, “because that is where the audiences are”. 

Usage across other platforms on the other hand are “stagnating or shrinking.”

The distributed content challenge

On the back of mobile, the rise of platforms, and in particular Facebook, drove further change. Only a few years ago “we had our own properties on our own platforms, our own apps and our own mobile sites where users came to interact. Life was good, so to speak. Today we are in an era of distributed content, with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, with Google and with Amazon Alexa now also a potential source of interaction.”

While this enhances audience reach for publishers, it creates complexity. Because platforms are proprietary, “you have to adapt and build different APIs” to engage on said platforms. 

“The challenge for journalists, apart from having to optimise content for each channel, is they have often have to work in difference CMS environments”, for example with Facebook Instant Articles. “In the end this produces cost, where currently, across most platforms, revenues do not yet cover those costs.”

Another factor is the impact of platforms on brand engagement, with the first point of interaction now often the platform brand, for instance the likes of Facebook. “Younger people, millennials or whatever you want to call them, don’t have a close relationship with our brands. That’s another challenge: how can an established legacy brand like Brigitte address the millenial audience, while not losing their established audience at the same time.”

Related: Publisher business models in the age of platforms

The distributed content opportunity

On the plus side, it allows publishers “to reach audiences globally, which is tremendous” and provides a wider range of touch points through which to deeply engage audiences.

In a roundabout way, the “fake news” problem also presents quality publishers with an opportunity. Trustworthiness of sources within social media environments is an issue. “This brings us back into the game, because Facebook and others now want partners who fact check in order to address the problem. Quality publishers have the journalists, we have the training and we have the experience to deal with this.”

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Oliver urges publishers to be active across new platforms – it’s a necessity, he says. Publishers were left behind with the first wave of digital in the 90's. With the second wave, mobile, publishers became more heavily invested. In G+J’s case, “for the last five years or so we are now market leaders in certain segments, both in terms of audience and monetisation indicators. We learnt from our mistakes.”

All interaction with content ‘will be voice-based’

Asked which new technologies excite him, Oliver says he is always wary of bubbles. However, “anything build with a mobile mindset is relevant.”

Localised journalism, thanks to location aware devices, will see change. Chatbots – although at this stage more relevant for ecommerce than content – is something to keep an eye on.”

However, in his mind voice is the big one to focus on. Oliver believes all interaction with “content will be voice-based, I am sure of that.” To this end it is worth experimenting with voice services like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, not only with home environments in mind, but also because they will come to the fore in other ecosystems, such as in cars.

Related: Voice is the next major disruption in computing - Amazon exec

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