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July 25, 2012, 12:01 p.m.
News Corp's midtown Manhattan office building is home to The Wall Street Journal.

With its new pop-out markets widget, The Wall Street Journal is after super-niche readers

The newspaper is testing out a way to keep its content more persistently on readers’ screens.

The Wall Street Journal quietly launched a new function last month, a pop-out Markets Data window that puts a real-time markets ticker in the corner of your screen. It’s part of the newspaper’s ongoing “WSJ Everywhere” mantra, and an attempt to keep readers connected with the Journal in an ever-fracturing and narrowing media world.

The soft rollout was also a way for Raju Narisetti, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal’s digital network, to test a hypothesis. “Our belief is there is a group of people whose prism to the world is through markets and market data,” Narisetti told me. “Let’s test that kind of theory and put this out there.”

He says the results have been promising. In the first three weeks, the widget got 200,000 pageviews from 25,000 people. Not only were people taking advantage of an opportunity to pop out niche content, but they were staying with it, and coming back to it. Users can toggle between U.S., European, Asian, and foreign exchange markets. There are also tabs for rates, futures, and a customized “My Markets” view.

“The interesting thing was that people on average were spending close to some 15 minutes on that,” Narisetti said. “If you look at that across the site, it’s probably close to more than double the average because so much sideways traffic comes in. I don’t want to falsely assume that somebody who has popped it out has spent all that time looking at it but the fact that people are popping it out on a consistent basis and coming back to it suggests that there is a class of people for whom this makes sense.”

The feature also makes sense from an advertising perspective. For a company like TD Ameritrade, which is currently sponsoring the widget, the pop-out ad space represents real estate in a stickier, more specialized hub of a media company with an already well-defined, desirable audience. (It’s worth noting that the dimensions of the pop-out are set: Try to make the window small enough to hide the ad and it snaps back into place.)

“For an advertiser, the opportunity to always be with their most engaged customers — it’s a unique feature,” Narisetti said. “Somebody has actively popped this out. They care about it enough that they want it on their desktop. As we increasingly think about the portability of our audiences, and that they want to engage with our content and our brand in multiple ways, this is how we’re visualizing our website.”

This perspective isn’t about occupying new corners of desktop space as much as it is about providing narrow sluices of content tailored to specific yet persistent interests. The Wall Street Journal has been experimenting heavily with topic-specific content streams in recent months. That includes ongoing coverage areas like the Markets Pulse stream it launched in April. But the paper is also streaming coverage of stories and events that aren’t as open-ended, like Facebook’s May 18 IPO offering. The Journal closed that stream on June 5.

Other streams that are still open include coverage of the U.S. presidential election, Europe’s debt crisis, and the Olympic Games. (Last week, it opted to stream coverage of the theater shooting in Colorado. As of this writing, reporters are still updating that stream regularly.)

“The underlying principle is the same,” Narisetti said. “For a variety of audiences, some of whom might have a very definite prism through which they want to view the day’s events, don’t feel obliged to come back to the full product.”

We’ve written about the streamification of news before, and how it’s an aesthetic call back to the reverse-chronological blogs of the 1990s. But news streams are also structured like something more modern: Twitter. Narisetti is active on the site, and he’s told me before he sees its role in the future of journalism as “significant.”

Just this morning, he tweeted a link to an article that suggested the onset of news streams like The Wall Street Journal’s may portend the death of the article as we know it.

Still, it seems unlikely we’ll see the Journal abandon the traditional article structure any time soon. Ultimately, the “WSJ Everywhere” credo comes down to giving readers a choice.

Read stories in the physical newspaper, online or via a smartphone app. (A responsive design site is still in the works, Narisetti said.) If you’d rather watch video news, they’ve got tons of it.

Want to watch something that has nothing to do with the news? That’s fine, too. Some of the Journal’s most popular YouTube content has had to do with Spiderman’s workout regimen and Emma Stone’s makeup.

It appears The Wall Street Journal doesn’t just want to be everywhere. It wants to be everything, too.

POSTED     July 25, 2012, 12:01 p.m.
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