What We All Really, Really Want

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h1Chartbeat is the crack cocaine of data addiction.

Jesse Robbins, CEO of Opscode

Everyone, and we mean EVERYONE, who's come across Newsbeat, the big brother to Chartbeat's popular real-time analytics service, has likened it to crack. And we don't mean the plumbers' kind. But while crack is indeed whack, what Newsbeat is promising is far from it. The service claims to "sort the signal from the noise" and help publishers understand, in real time, what sections, stories and contributors are performing…or aren't performing. It's also designed to measure real engagement. Whitney Houston would approve.

For example, Newsbeat shows a graph of Twitter-related activity for each story, so publishers and authors can see who has been posting a link or mentioning the story on Twitter. It also ranks the tweets based on the Klout score of the tweeter, so that publishers can see which tweets matter. Newsbeat also lets you drill down by section or author, and shows how each one is doing across different types of readers. How's that for a serotonin surge?

Of course, the frenetic, real-time pace of the newsroom isn't news, per se. But tools like Newsbeat are bringing a new voice into the newsroom and to all kinds of content—what Jay Rosen calls ‘the people formerly known as the audience' (TPFKATA, for short). It's no longer enough for editors to just edit—set direction, pick themes, identify stories, cull submissions and make prose sing. Today's online editors need to do all of that…and react in real-time to the TPFKATA. The new skill goes beyond content editing to content merchandising: finding the right time to publish the right article with the right headline to reach the maximum audience through the right channels.

And for those who think all this real-time data will just accelerate the race to the bottom as everyone chases the high-traffic, low-brow stories about Lindsay Lohan's house arrest ... it will, for some. But it will also do the opposite, and show publishers what their readers are interested in - and it can let individual authors see if what they are writing is having an impact, and who their biggest fans are. It will also encourage writers to bring in and build their own networks - making them all entrepreneurs.

We're admittedly Chartbeat (and now Newsbeat) addicts here at SAY. We love nothing more than the thrill of hitting a new peak, watching the visitor meter get pegged to the right, and understanding where readers are coming from. And we'd be foolish not to react in realtime to optimize content production and delivery based on what Chartbeat's telling us. As xoJane.com's managing editor Emily McCombs puts it, "You can't always predict the hits - things always surprise me. There's no magic formula for what works and ChartBeat is a great way to see that."

But the magic, as always, is finding the way to filter signal from the noise. Every editor needs to understand their audiences, of course, and real-time tools are a useful arrow in the quiver. Great editors, though, know how to plot a course for their publication, set a tone, find the right voices, shape coverage and engage their audience. Almost by definition they know what their readers want before they want it. And now they need to learn how to use real-time feedback to deliver what their readers really, really want.