Session Transcripts

A live transcription team captured the SRCCON sessions that were most conducive to a written record—about half the sessions, in all.

Messaging is the New Browser—Telling Stories and Building Audience One Sentence at a Time

Session Facilitator(s): Yvonne Leow, Michael Morisy

Day & Time: Friday, 3-4pm

Room: Thomas Swain

So everyone’s here for advanced emacs tips, right? Wars have been started. So everybody, this is, sort of, the new title is, “Messaging is the New Browser: Telling Stories and Building Audience One Sentence at a Time.” Hopefully that’s what everybody’s interested in. And so one of the things that Yvonne and I’ve been exploring in the past few months is sort of how can messaging be used in newsrooms so, sort of, better tell stories. How can we think if all you had was 140 characters texted directly, or all you had was WhatsApp, how could you sort of change the way that we communicate with our audiences. And so we sort of talk about how you can cover serious stories with a messaging app, how you can sort of crowdsource stuff and kind of what we settled on is a lot of stuff that’s being done in the browser today is sort of being pushed to being smaller and more direct communications in messaging. And you see this a little bit in news but you also see this in e-commerce. Who’s heard of the startup, Magic which is just sort of you text them, and you say, I want a burrito, and it will say, it’s $40, is that okay? And you say, yeah, I work in Silicon Valley and I don’t know the concept of money. And so the burrito comes, and they handle that. You don’t have to download a browser, you don’t have to download an app, and so this is a way for interrupters to come in and flow over other people’s platforms and kind of build a business in really interesting ways.

And we’ve seen this in other industries, too. Banking, finance, you get airplane alerts, you get alerts about sometimes we get alerts on campus. If you’re a student has university, if there’s an intruder or any type of thing like that. And so you see it being used and applied in not only that kind of thing but in travel, and finance types of industries.

And in news, you’re starting to develop a direct relationship with your reader. You don’t have to worry about directly going to an app store. You can go to WhatsApp, bow you can float through Facebook, or text messaging, there’s lots of interesting possibilities there. And so we’ve tried to use SRCCON as a test bed for the sort of things that we’ve been developing. You might have seen this little sign for this little dude or dudette, Jojo, and that was our ongoing experiment for the weekend. And so we got posters everywhere, and we got people to say, they want to save Jojo, a little robot that crash-landed in the area. And so you have this question of how do you increase engagement in text messaging? We’ve seen the sort of traditional startup funnel where you have a lot of people engage a little bit and then slowly they engage more and more. And so we wanted to test how do you build these types of engagement through a mobile device when all you have is messaging service. So the first thing that we wanted to was sort of after people signed up, we just wanted to broadcast a little bit of data. To Jojo is saying, help, I’ve crashed, I don’t know what’s going on. What’s going on?

And then we wanted the—the first thing that you want to know about your audience is who the heck is your audience and so we asked for a little bit of demographic data, just what’s your name and are you a robot? And then there was a variety of responses to that. And then one of the things that you can do very easily, and this is nothing new but it was really huge dancing with the stars and what’s that music show where people sing and become Kelly Clarkson?

American Idol?

American Idol used text messaging calls to full effect. And sort of as we’re going on we’re doing more and more complex things. Eventually we wanted to crowdsource, getting together a bunch of scary images, and sort of eventually doing outright actions either in real life or on other social platforms. So here was the first, sort of, poll. Jojos was sort of lost and you didn’t know where he should go. Most people picked the right answer, which was SRCCON. Yay!

And then but some people said Jojo should go to 612 brew. And so who actually did the Jojo experiment over the past few days?

Not bad. All right.

So some people sent Jojo 612 Brew, and Jojo was like, hey, should I pour some beer on myself at 612 Brew? And 100 percent people that told Jojo to go to 612 Brew told Jojo to pour beer all over himself which probably wouldn’t be a good idea for a robot. And one of the things was sort of after that, Jojo made its way to SRCCON and Dan Nguyen said that he would plug Jojo in if he could show them an image as well. And a lot of people sent Dan and tweeted at Dan and met him in real life which you can see there. So it was kind of cool kind of seeing people taking sort of like, “Hey, this is the inside of the app, inside the messaging experience,” and broadening that outside. And then we see the crowdsourcing of scary pictures which we got a lot of amusing ones. Who sent a subsidiary picture in here? Awesome. This one was actually one of my favorites.

That’s from me!


Well done. A bunch of other scary pictures that are really good. I like the little hand-drawn one.

That was me.

You know… some of these pictures are scary for people and I just got a couple that just confused me. People sending their puppies, which I don’t know.

How ironic.

Maybe Dan doesn’t like dogs, I don’t know. And so we have all the text messages. So if you participated and I lost you somewhere along the way or you didn’t get a chance to see what we were sending out. We have And we have a link to the etherpad as well as a whole train of messages.

So the whole idea behind the messaging thing is audience engagement in real time. And there’s so many different ways that we can be engaging with the audience and crowdsourcing content and actually getting data from them and actually having that conversation dynamic that we don’t usually get in comments, or even in social media sometimes. It’s a very intimate experience and that’s what we’re going to do today. Just to go over some of our goals, if you go to our etherpad, feel free to add your ideas and additional resources at the bottom as well but our goal was to really sign up people, gather their information, and see what they could get and so we asked people what’s your name? People told us their name for the most part. And are you a robot, and people responded accordingly. But that was real time responses which is similar to who Michael was talking about when it comes to the polling and my link to demonstrate real-life user engagement, will people actually do things that we ask them to do when this is just like a made-up thing with no reputation or any type of credibility whatsoever? And the answer is: Yes. And granted it’s a very specific audience. Like, everyone is just game for trying out different things but the idea is that that’s just testing out the potential when you actually have a brand and an audience and you’re interacting with them through messaging. And finally, yeah, crowdsourcing content. You can look at our narrative. So we actually wrote out a script to kind of have an idea of, like, what we wanted to do before so that’s what we’re going to be having you guys do today is actually, what would that look like in terms of creating content specifically for messaging, because it’s a very different medium. It’s not the web. It’s not notifications. It’s actually having a conversation. But you can kind of craft a narrative to see how you respond as Jojo or any type of organization to people as they’re engaging with you. Especially as you guys are making requests for things like, you’re actually telling, creating a narrative because they could answer one or two ways, or maybe you can just answer the same thing depending on how they respond. If that makes any sense. So I’ll move onto the exercise.

Sure. So what we would like—we’re going to break into five different groups and we’re each going to pick—you’ll be assigned sort of one of five major stories and think about sort of how can you go through the sort of chain of messaging to address those stories online. We’re not going to worry about the acquisition, we’re not going to worry about the marketing, we’re not going to worry about the technical logistics of what a technical challenge it is so send and receive messages without actually CCing everybody so that you’re leaking a bunch of private information. We’re just talked about this pyramid of sort of engagement from sort of how do you address using message people who just want to receive information all the way to people who want to really engage with your media organization around, like, sharing their thoughts, sharing breaking-news pictures and stuff.

And just have fun with it. I think the best part of messaging is actually having a personality. People aren’t trying to engage with news organizations. They’re trying to engage with people. Those are the types of people that you engage with via text and SMS. So use emojis. Be casual. Have pictures, brainstorm. How you would be communicating as a news organization while delivering information and yeah, see how it goes. So if he can break into five groups. I think we have six, seven, eight tables but if you want to merge into five groups for those who are at two at a table, converge into one, maybe this is one group…? Okay. Two, three, four, five. If that works… and kind of just see how would you guys talk about NBA finals or Fourth of July celebration if you were a news organization and you were trying to talk to them via messaging. And just write very similar, if you can pull up our Tumblr what that script would look like. And we’ll just do that for the next 30 minutes and just kind of share ideas at the end. Does anyone have questions or anything? No? All right.

Yeah, for each—yeah, here it is. And so for each different story, we’ll come around and kind of set up a story, each different group. You just want to sort of break it up into four stages. How would you—are what kind of information would you broadcast via just messaging. What kind of information about your users would you want as you’re developing that story? What kind of polling could you do and then what kind of crowdsourcing could you do as well as maybe what kind of in-real-life interactions could you sort of generate. So how would you take it beyond messaging? So does that make sense? So can we get into five tables?


So do you guys want to take on the SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage?


Group one.

Group two? California drought? Is anyone from California. All right!

I’ll join that if that’s…

Do you want to take on that? The drought? All right you guys are California drought. You guys have the drought.

Three. 2016 presidential election. [ Group Work ]

All right, guys. Just five more minutes and then we’re going to present everyone’s ideas. Just five more minutes. [ Group Work ] All right. Brainstorm session’s over. Let’s go over the groups and kind of hear what everyone brainstormed and then all the ideas when it comes to messaging phone number guys, SCOTUS decision do you want to kick us off? Group one?


Great. We talked about many things. I think they varied from talking about how to use text to crowdsource media reactions on reports of marriages in the wake of the decision because a lot of action is happening today and there are a lot of strong reactions right at the moment. We’ve talked about, sort of, longer term uses of collecting and polling by text. So, sort of, how to tell the longer-term story of even stuff that happened before the decisions since people have been thinking about this while the arguments were happening and there’s a pause and then the decision suddenly comes out. And then how to continue to pull after, you know, like, how does—how do people’s opinions change about this over over a longer period of time. Like, one impact of this decision might be, people might think vastly differently about this subject two years from now. And then talked about using text to build apps that solve practical problems or provide information like more same-sex couples will want to get married and it’s sometimes difficult to find safe places to go get married. If you guys want to add. But that’s just a selection of some of the things that we talked about. But…

I mean, we just talked a little bit about how this is an interesting story and there’s activity during the arguments and then there’s a dead period, and then you know the story is coming and then the story drops from the sky. You kind of know it’s coming and I mean, you could segment based on people’s specific political interests, not necessarily sending content they would agree with, but if somebody’s tracking a particular presidential candidate, you can track that candidate’s official statement when it comes out, and then crowdsourcing people who are having specific trouble getting married, even though it’s federal law may not be necessarily cooperating.

Did you feel any specific challenges that you felt when you were talking about this problem with messaging, or things that you were worried about?

I just felt in that it’s history. It’s basically a history of our country and so it’s a bit omnipresent right now. So just, I personally kind of had a bit of trouble sort of narrowing my focus like, what can we do with messaging since it’s pretty much everywhere.

Right. It’s a little different thinking.

What’s the most interesting thing you guys, like, brainstormed when it comes to messaging like, “Oh, I didn’t think about that.”

Personally I kind of like the idea of using texting to let people report violations of the new law. Like, those with actually the most interesting incidents, arguably that you want to report on. You try to get married somewhere and you can’t. That’s now illegal. So that’s the kind of stuff people may be hearing about.

Cool. Thank you.

Drought. Hit us.

So we kept circling around the idea of it’s a big sort of amorphous issue and there’s lots of little things that people can do to help, but they help in various ways and it’s hard to figure out, both what actually matters and also, make it sort of acute, personal and relevant. So one of the ideas that we settled on was some kind of a game, could you cut your water usage by 20%, and what would you do given your choices. Would you tear out your lawn, or would you take a shorter shower, or take your car to a carwash instead of washing it at home. I could definitely do that. I saved 20 gallons, you only need to save 2,000 more.

Just to put it into perspective.

What are you going to do next. The easy thing may not always be the thing that makes the difference. But maybe if everybody else is. It and that got us thinking about, sort of, what are your neighbors doing? What are you—how is it how do you compare—how do your water situation compare to other places, or how are your sacrifices different from other people’s sacrifices and who is not actually—who’s keeping their lawns green? Who’s keeping their facilitates clean or whatever.

Yeah, a game is a really great way to get data really easily if we’re talking about just A, B, or C. But A, B, or C, could require a lot of information, but it might require a lot of information on the user’s part to require to type that in and send it back to you. Awesome. Presidential elections. That was a huge topic, also.

Right, so we focused on what happened during election day. And we started out thinking about just exit polling but we sort of branched out to the rest of the actual act of going to the poll and you go and say, “All right, I’m at the poll.” And when you test that, you can get sort of like a voter guide on all the things you have to vote on in your district or in your particular precinct. And then you might be able to say, “I’m here at the poll, I’m waiting at the poll and this is how I voted.” So you can, one, give people, give everyone else an idea of how long you have to wait at the poll at that particular poll. And then, also get exit polling data, which can be used for analysis of—for reporting and by telling the system, like, “I voted republican.” Or “I voted Green.” You can also come back and give you actual data. Yes, you’re voting for a third party, but actually in your district there is a slight chance that you might be able to have an showing. So get your friends to go out and vote as well, and, sort of, a “get up and vote” sort of action beyond just saying, “Hey, I voted.”

And telling people the impact, like, their relative impact. Same thing with the drought, too. What’s your relative impact with taking this action, whether it’s voting or saving water?

And personalizing data. I think there’s so much data and I think it’s so hard to make that actually meaningful for people even though we have more data on them than ever before. I think that’s really cool.

Hey…! Fourth of July?

Nope. NBA finals.

NBA finals.

Anybody wanna kickoff with the finals?

Yeah, so we—we were sort of thinking about how we could, the various audiences that we would be addressing, whether they were people who are very into the sports game they’re watching or people whether or not really don’t want to watch sports but feel like they should have some idea of what’s going on. Yeah.

And the various ways that we might address those, you know, people in both of those groups and everywhere in between. And so we talked about a couple of different ways to do that, doing alerts about, kind of, the improbable goings on at any moment, that if you, even if you don’t care, you might care that this record is about to be broken or something like that. If you’re kind of a low-engagement person. If you’re a high-engagement person, you might be interested in when there’s a kind of high-stakes situation coming up. We could ask you, you know, do you think this batter’s going to get a hit or is going to strike out and we can kind of get, you know, it’s both interesting for you to make that decision and we also kind of get crowdsourcing of what are people’s—what are people thinking about here.

One thing that we kind of struggled with was we can come up with these various use cases looking at it that way, but how do we—how do we open the conversation with people? How do we, kind of, make that first connection to get, you know, to make it worth people’s while to invite us into their message app.

Anybody else have anything that they want to highlight?

I really like one of the things that we discussed in this group is this idea of, like, how would you figure out how would you bring in A, compulsive gambling, or B, like a kiss cam from a stadium into your living room. So what’s, like, the equivalent of the kiss cam but brought into somebody’s house. So you’re having a party –

Don’t make it creepy.

It’s not going to be creepy, but sort of like, “Hey, you know, it’s the commercial break, so show us—we wanted to find the house party with the best guacamole. Send us the best guacamole.” And so if your house has the best guacamole, they’ll send it out to tens of thousands of people. Or people who have the best costumes for celebrating the team or something like that because I think playing into the strengths of sports is identity and community. And so kind of merging that and so I think there’s lots of interesting things that could be done with a filter. And so if you is ask people, send in a picture of a lucky jersey, or your lucky object, you can get a lot of people rooting for the same team, which creates a really cool second screening experience that you don’t have to worry about brands crashing the party like they tend to do on Twitter and that sort of thing.

Unless they’re getting a cut.

Unless they’re getting paid.



Thank you so much for coming, you guys. I mean, you are biggest takeaway is that there’s so much potential when it comes to messaging. I don’t think many people are thinking about it beyond notifications.

And I think that’s scale and I think there’s so many possibilities and I think there are a lot of opportunities. And I think it kind of opens it up once you stop thinking about, “I can’t do this and this.” But we can do this and this. We can run a game, we can run a kiss cam, we can find out illegal activities. It gets to be a lot more freeing. And so rather than looking at what you can’t do just in messaging, think about all the things that you can discuss that we can do.


Thanks so much.

[ Applause ]