Credit: Screenshot from the Quartz iPhone app.

In the four years it’s been around, it can be argued that Quartz has done pretty well for itself. The digital native many legacy media organisations look up to for the user experience and product design has a successful newsletter, two international editions launched in India and Africa, and started experimenting with chat bots before other publishers did by launching its first iPhone app in February.

But people tend to spend their time in social apps rather than news apps, said Mia Mabanta, director of marketing and revenue products at Quartz, speaking at WAN-IFRA's Digital Media Europe event in Vienna today (22 April).

She highlighted that a quick Twitter search she did last week for the keywords ‘read mobile site’ showed people are mostly disappointed with the experience on their smartphones.

“What you see often in digital media is that whenever a new platform comes on stage, news companies’ first instinct is to try and replicate whatever was working before, on that platform,” she added.

“But mobile is growing and changing quicker than anything that came before, so I think pretty much all predictions about the future are going to be incorrect.”

Question your assumptions

“Because for so long they have done the same thing, media companies assume that if something has worked before it will continue to work in the future – false,” said Mabanta.

An example of this was news organisations’ expectations that “people will page through every section of their website in the same way they did the morning newspaper”.

Quartz doesn’t know what the next big trend in media will be, but Mabanta outlined some of the outlet’s guiding assumptions.

Reframe the problem with advertising

“We’ve started relying on robots to put our ads all over the internet, therefore we are also describing these ads using robot words instead of human words," she said.

In the advertising ecosystem, she said, brands and advertisers are on one side and publishers and readers on the other, but often in the middle there will be technologies or services producing and serving those ads that are “basically all automated robots”.

“If we define ads just in terms of the size of the boxes around them, how can we expect people who produce them, our designers, to be inspired to create something that actually works and that readers actually have a positive reaction towards?”

Make bets on the future

By diving head-first into creating a mobile news app from scratch when they already had a successful newsletter and social presence, Quartz took a chance, betting on the messaging experience as a form of interaction with users.

The app’s initial version consisted of push notifications that lead the user to a replica of the Daily Brief newsletter.

It then took the shape of a messaging app, but “it was very transactional, good at giving information but not so good at disseminating any personality,” said Mabanta.

Quartz’s initial goal for the app was for the average reader to use it once a day.

Now, almost two and a half months since the launch, an active user goes opens the app twice a day and spends between four and five minutes with it, she added.

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