Every page became the homepage, as journalism academic Paul Bradshaw said, and every story became a Storify-like curated stream of photos, videos and tweets
The team behind the site, ITV News and developers Made by Many, were convinced the audience would like the new site but were apprehensive about the reaction of critics.
It was "a huge dedication to simplicity", Robin Pembrooke, managing director of ITV.com said, but others were less sure of the new format. "It looks like a student WordPress blog," said one commenter.
But the site received hugely positive feedback from the journalism industry with the Nieman Journalism Lab describing it as "a somewhat frenetic newsfeed that at times more closely resembles a reporter’s notebook than a traditional story".
Last night key figures in digital from ITV News and Made by Many invited their counterparts from the BBC, Telegraph, Mirror and other news outlets to explain why they took the livestream approach.
Pembrooke said the evening was an explanation was due to its role as "a public sector broadcaster" as a way of sharing the lessons learned along the way.
Why ITV News took 'the stream' approach
"We knew we couldn't compete" with the likes of the Mail Online and the BBC, Pembrooke said. "We had to innovate and take a different approach."
Made by Many started their research, which included a visit to the ITV News gallery. And it was in the TV news gallery with its screens of images and videos where they found "the raw material we wanted to put out onto the web", William Owen, founding partner of the firm of developers said.
The team looked at competitors' sites, including Mail Online, BBC and Telegraph, and felt the layouts were similar. "Take the mastheads off and they all look the same," Owen said.
The competition was tied to print news titles and, as Made by Many blogged at the time of the March launch of the livestream site, they wanted to create a "digitally native news service" as if print and broadcast formats had never existed.
Inspired by Al Jazeera, liveblogs and YouTube, the team set about inventing their stream of news.
They recognised the importance and role of YouTube in the Arab Spring and noted the format of the video-sharing site.
"But could you do this with all the news?" Owen asked himself.
The team took the elements of "high quality news video, livestreaming and filtering" to create the stream, where the latest part of the story appears at the top of the page.
"It all started with the user", Owen explained. And users navigate not by topics, such as health, sport or politics, but by by story (such as #libya #gaddafi of #Euro2012). "That's how people consume the news."
So what did the developers and ITV News learn? Here are some of the key lessons shared at the event last night.
1. "A reporter can do a lot in down time (and with Twitter)". Owen explained that all journalists across the national and regional teams provide content.
2. "It takes practice to curate a stream effectively." He added that it requires experience to narrate such stories and is not a job for trainees.
3. There is a "core requirement for fast reporting and admin tools". The developers realised they had to come up with a CMS that was "impossibly easy" to use and with no room for people to say "no, I can't do this", Julian March, ITV's head of digital media news, sport and weather, added.
March explained how in the old world a journalist would be required to download an image from PA, edit it in PhotoShop saving four different picture sizes. The new world has a drag and drop function with a crop option allowing easy image formatting on the fly.
4. "Video belongs in the story." Owen said that some other news sites act as examples where "video has been put in a ghetto" away from other content types.
5. Mobile optimised is a must. Owen highlighted the importance of having a mobile optimised site.
6. The stream works for local news too. ITV News has 12 regional sites and Owen explained that, although the different parts of the broadcaster's offering can appear as separate sites, the livestream format does work for regional stories.
7. Moving to livestream requires a "shift in mindset" among the team of journalists. March explained how the team are encouraged to think of the online offering as "ITV's 24-hour news channel (in digital media)".
"We tried to appeal to the core, the heart of a journalist, to break news"
Where the TV bulletins "touched audience at daybreak, lunchtime, evening and at ten", the website is an opportunity to "liveblog our news gathering", March added.The site complements rather than competes with the bulletin and helps us provide a more rounded editorial offeringJason Mills
March explained how the site now "tells a story as it unfolds, tells the audience what we know now, tells stories which may not make the programme" and encourages journalists to "think like a rolling news channel" and to "be open, like the web".
Jason Mills editor of web development for ITV News said he tells reporters "it's just open sourcing your notebook", convincing them that it is not much more work. "Tweet it out and we'll add it in," he tells the team.
The stream requires a new way of thinking for producers, Mills explained.
"It's about breaking away from the single splurge of information and presenting it in bite-size chunks."
8. "Some stories don't stream." Mills said that there are some stories that are simply a "fantastic bit of video people want to watch".
9. The stream format presents challenges. Mills said it is not a precise science when deciding whether or not a story will stream or whether it is an update to an existing story.
One of the challenges is dealing with big, long-running stories like the Leveson inquiry or the Euro crisis, Mills said.
There are also legal challenges. "If you are streaming a man hunt and if a man is charged … all that stuff is sitting there in the stream."
Another challenge is tagging, which requires consistency. Stories are found by filtering and there must be unity in tagging (such as opting for Leveson or Leveson inquiry), Mills said.
Two of the main challenges are "taking a TV newsroom bulletin and making it think 24/7", and to demonstrate that "a TV newsroom can tell stories not based on video", Mills said.
"We don't always want video" in the story, Mills explained, saying that a text update may be better than a junior minister in a talking head video. "It's about getting the story, even if the video isn't worthwhile."
Another challenge for ITV News is SEO, and finding and linking to historic parts of the story.
10. The stream allows "editors to see what the public are interested in". Seeing which stories resonate is "starting to help the decision-making process on air", Mills said.
"The site complements rather than competes with the bulletin and helps us provide a more rounded editorial offering."
The site also breaks stories. "The days of waiting for a bulletin to break news have passed".
11. The audience really can deal with the stream. Mills said that the site's success has demonstrated that "there is an appetite for continuous updates."