HOME
          
LATEST STORY
The Internet Archive hopes to boost its collections through funding from the Knight News Challenge
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Sept. 6, 2011, 4 p.m.

Felix Salmon’s brain, Drudged: Meet Counterparties, a personal linkblog with Reuters branding

Reuters journos Felix Salmon and Ryan McCarthy create a “Buzzfeed for finance” that’s part of, and separate from, the newswire behemoth.

What would a “Buzzfeed for finance” look like?

Felix Salmon and Ryan McCarthy are figuring it out — via Counterparties, the site they launched this afternoon. The site is essentially a linkblog for financial news and commentary, offering a curated look at the moment’s big stories. Go to the site right now, and you’ll see a mix of headlines and tags linked to original sources: a Guardian story headlined “James Murdoch reportedly knew of explosive phone-hacking email” and tagged “Implausible Deniability”; a Bloomberg story headlined “A 2,800-employee factory in India produces nothing and no one can be fired” and tagged “Regulations”; a Reuters story headlined “Obama pulls anti-smog plan after businesses complain it’ll be too expensive” and tagged “Hope/Change/Etc.”

Other tags currently include “EU MESS,” “MEDIA,” “HORSE TRADING,” “PROFILES,” “OXPECKERS,” “STRAW MEN,” “IT’S ACADEMIC,” “GREAT HEADLINES,” “AWFUL,” and “AWESOME.”

Counterparties — the name celebrates the site’s ties to the financial world — is “an experiment,” Salmon and McCarthy note in a site intro. “What would a news website look like if it didn’t need to promote its own content, and just linked to the best stories and posts, regardless of source? We believe that the best way to get people to come back is to send them away: click on a headline, go straight to another site, and see for yourself.”

“It’s tags, it’s voice, and it’s my dream of just being completely source-agnostic, just linking out,” Salmon told me. It’s exploring what voice sounds like in the service of one of the purest forms of information out there: the link. “This is, I believe,” he says, “the first mainstream/legacy media website which is just external links.”

I believe he is right. And that makes Counterparties not just an experiment, but also a hint, if a small one, at the trajectory of wire agencies as they evolve from straight-up “content providers” into…something else. The past few years have seen the AP experimenting with “accountability journalism.” They’ve seen Reuters itself expanding into investigative reporting and commentary and video, news-y and opinion-y and silly. One thing that those experiments have in common is that they emphasize, implicitly, the voices and the personalities and, finally, the brands of the news agencies’ individual journalists. “The whole idea here is to have real voice and attitude,” Salmon says. “Basically, the page is entirely built by humans. It’s not some sort of weird technology algorithm. But it’s powered by a weird technology algorithm.”

Counterparties finds most of its content via the service Percolate, which is similar to Summify except that it includes, in addition to Twitter feeds, RSS feeds. And: Counterparties uses Salmon’s own feeds, the ones that he’s been cultivating for his private use for several years now. “Counterparties is based on, literally, my Google Reader list of blogs that I read and my list of people I follow on Twitter,” Salmon says. Which means that the feeds Percolate scans include those from, say, Salmon’s wife’s friends — “not because I have any particular professional interest in what they have to say,” he notes, but because they’re his friends, too. “It’s a very personal thing.”

Percolate works through a kind of algorithmic crowdsourcing that reads the popularity of particular links within a defined universe of sources (much like, among other services, Hourly Press and Nieman Lab’s Fuego). Which means that, since the bulk of Salmon’s sources are finance-related, the bulk of Percolate’s returns will be, too. If Salmon’s wife’s friends are particularly interested in, say, avante-garde millinery, links to hautehat.com (probably) won’t suddenly show up under the Reuters banner. And even if Percolate returns those links, the human-algorithm factor will kick in to ensure that the stories ultimately linked on Counterparties will be, by and large, of interest to those who are interested in finance.

“Percolate,” says McCarthy, who will be playing the part of the Human in the production, “is really great at acting as a net to help us catch all the great stories that are linked to by, and cited by, really influential people — and people we’ve already chosen and accepted and trust.” It’s a means to aggregation, though, not the end of it. And aggregation is, anyway, a means to something else: style, personality, fun.

“The heart of this is the voice,” Salmon says. “We don’t just copy and paste headlines. We isolate the essence of what we’re linking to, or what we think is noteworthy about what we’re linking to, in much the same way as you would in a tweet.” Add the tags to the equation, “and you can have a lot of attitude and voice and opinion and distinctiveness — even when you aren’t actually writing anything. Even when you don’t have your own stories to link to.”

Counterparties’ logic — journalists’ personal feeds creating Drudge-like linkblogs — could easily be applied to other verticals, and other journalists. And the fact that Counterparties lives under the umbrella of a newswire behemoth means that it has some leeway to experiment. “No longer is headline writing and story selection a means to an end of generating the maximal amount of pageviews,” Salmon says. “Now it’s just an end in itself.” Counterparties, like Drudge and its fellow linkblogs, provides an ephemeral snapshot of a moment’s big stories. It has permalink pages for each link, but those are explicitly de-emphasized on the site. Counterparties is also, at the moment, ad-free. And while that could change, permanent content — and the monetization thereof — isn’t, Salmon says, really the point.

In fact: “I think the site looks too good,” Salmon says.

“Don’t quote him on that,” McCarthy says.

“You can absolutely quote me on that. Seriously. Because if you look at the most successful sites which link out — Fark, Reddit, Techmeme, Memeorandum, Drudge (and Drudge above all) — they’re all incredibly ugly. And I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s actually as much a feature as it is a bug. The ugly is good, because it drives you away. And the reason you go to that website is to be driven away.”

With that in mind, “we’re aggressively anti-pageview,” Salmon says. “We don’t want people to stay on that site. We just want people to go away.”

“And then,” McCarthy says, “to come back.”

POSTED     Sept. 6, 2011, 4 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
The Internet Archive hopes to boost its collections through funding from the Knight News Challenge
The home of the Wayback Machine and other efforts to preserve the Internet is among 22 projects based around libraries receiving $3 million in funding through the Knight News Challenge.
Constantly tweaking: How The Guardian continues to develop its in-house analytics system
Since its launch in 2011, The Guardian has consistently made changes to its in-house analytics tool, Ophan.
Bloomberg Business’ new look has made a splash — but don’t just call it a redesign
Bloomberg digital editor Joshua Topolsky on uncomfortable news design, new ad units, and why they killed the comments.
What to read next
2902
tweets
Don’t try too hard to please Twitter — and other lessons from The New York Times’ social media desk
The team that runs the Times’ Twitter accounts looked back on what they learned — what worked, what didn’t — from running @NYTimes in 2014.
728From explainers to sounds that make you go “Whoa!”: The 4 types of audio that people share
How can public radio make audio that breaks big on social media? A NPR experiment identified what makes a piece of audio go viral.
722Q&A: Amy O’Leary on eight years of navigating digital culture change at The New York Times
“In 2007, as digital people, we were expected to be 100 percent deferent to all traditional processes. We weren’t to bother reporters or encourage them to operate differently at all, because what they were doing was the very core of our journalism.”
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Reddit
Davis Wiki
The New Yorker
I-News
INDenverTimes
St. Louis Beacon
Sacramento Press
The Daily Voice
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Circa
Craigslist
Groupon