Credit: Zach Steward, CEO of Quartz (above)

Earlier this month, business news website Quartz launched a new feature called Essentials.

It kicks on from its Obsessions section which follows critical shifts in the global economy, making sure its readers are looped into all the tech beyond Silicon Valley, the future of work, consumer habits, and other key beats.

The idea with Essentials is the reverse. After the reader has finished their article, it offers them a handful of essential stories to contextualise what they just read. For example, there is the story of artist David Datuna who has entered the cryptoart online marketplace (NFTs) and auctioned off five mixed-media collages, including a gif of his infamous banana-eating moment.

But for those who missed the memo, NFTs - or non-fungible tokens - might just be another acronym. Or the whole story might leave you thinking, 'so what?' So, at the bottom of the article, Essentials pins an eight-slide explainer on NFTs and a twelve-slide piece from the Obsession, 'Fixing Capitalism'.

Screenshot of Essentials from the Quartz website

So what makes this different to an ordinary, run-of-the-mill 'read more' section? spoke to the co-founder and CEO of Quartz Zach Steward via email about the launch of Essentials.

Prior to its launch, what was the problem that Essentials aimed to solve?  

The problem was best expressed by a Quartz reader we interviewed in a focus group in London: "It’s impossible to tell what’s important and what will no longer matter in the morning."

What does Essentials add to the user experience?

It’s impossible to tell what’s important and what will no longer matter in the morning.

Each story is illuminating on its own, but each is also one development within larger trends: Nike’s sterling reputation in China also happens to be one of its liabilities in the US, Taiwan’s semiconductor success is part of a wider diversification of the cities shaping tech, Zoom’s immersive view is just one in a litany of digital tools intending to make the workplace "better."

The Essentials expose readers to those larger concepts in a concise, conversational format, giving them the opportunity to learn more quickly while telling them where to look if they want to keep going down the rabbit hole.

Is it an editorial selection, or some sort of technical process?

It is an editorial selection. Writers and editors can choose to connect one or more collections of Essentials to any story. The CMS also suggests collections—for instance, if an article is part of an Obsession, we will usually display the Essentials for that Obsession.

How does Essentials aim to change reader behaviour on individual articles and across the site/app as a whole?

We hope that Essentials will leave readers feeling more knowledgeable about the topic they came to read about, compared to the experience of just reading a single article. If we achieve that, readers will reward us with more return visits and spending more time with Quartz.

Are you able to track clickthrough on articles pinned to the Essentials section? And how will that help improve the quality of your editorial product?

Yes, we are tracking that closely and view the completion rate for each collection of Essentials as a signal of how engaging the writing is and how useful the context we are providing is.

You have been testing the feature with small groups and A/B tests with millions of readers since the beginning of the year. What were the key lessons and takeaways here which helped you refine the product we see today? 

We tested Essentials as packs of cards and in a more linear format. Below articles, the cards had a stronger engagement with readers, so that is what we went with. Readers said they liked the way Essentials quickly summarised the often big topics in our field guides, so we are now producing them for all new field guides for members. In early versions of the product, the connection between Essentials and the article above it was not clear to users, so we made changes to draw a closer connection.

What else are you planning to launch which will improve the Quartz reader experience?

The writing format behind Essentials, which internally we refer to as "nugs", is quickly spreading through a lot of our journalism. It is how we write all of our emails now, our homepage, our coronavirus living briefing, and now Essentials. We plan to keep expanding on that in the months to come.

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