Innovation

Content is king: How passionate fans helped crowdfund the future of publishing

A decade ago technology innovation disrupted the media business. Content marketing startup Moviepilot explains how consumers, creators, and technologists might save the industry.

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Image: Moviepilot

The publishing business moves fast. Technology moves faster. As legacy media transitions to the web and mobile, demand has increased for quick, flexible, and scalable publishing platforms. Every component of the CMS— from the database and code to human interface elements—must be designed for heavy use by developers, writers and editors, and the public.

As audiences grow and expectations becomes more sophisticated, a number of modern publishers have elevated commenters to the level of creator. Gawker's Kinja, Medium, and even elements of Forbes.com are all publisher/technology hybrids that help audience members become site contributors. Mining readers for talented and passionate creators lowers publisher overhead and helps grow traffic, said Moviepilot CPO and co-founder Ben Kubota.

Moviepilot does not compete with traditional CMSes like Wordpress and Squarespace. The LA-based content marketing startup does not produce a commercial product. Instead, they build websites that occupy content categories— movies and TV, comic books, and soon gaming and sports—that have passionate fans. "We're building a fan-centric media company," Kubota said, "where the fan finds an easy [technology] stack to put her or his pen on digital paper. Other CMS providers give you options, layouts, and configurations. With our CMS, you do the creative part, we do all the rest."

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And like Medium and Kinka, Moviepilot aims to help creators make a few bucks. "We help you finish and shape your article, provide you with the right audience, and monetize it for you," Kubota explained. "We want to make this easier and more creative than any other CMS experience.

Could you explain the challenges facing modern web publishers?

Distributed content, and staying on top of new ways to interact with content is what it's all about. The experiments of the past, Project Snow Fall from the NYT for example, will be the new standard. Projects like Facebook Instant Articles, and Google Amp are also improving load times, and it's all starting to come together. Consuming text isn't dead, it's about to be reborn. And while a lot of publishers are pushing hard in the direction of video, we believe that a modern CMS must support the creative user; must present their content appropriately. And when the content has been created, distribute it to every appropriate network, from Facebook to Apple News and others. A modern CMS must support the creativity of the author.

What do you offer that social networks don't. What is the value proposition for creators?

In the days of the "early" internet, the whole concept of the blogger was omnipresent. And if you had a good voice, your article and your ideas found the way to the right audience. Back then, the internet wasn't perceived as a business environment the way it is today. There was no SEO, no large scale online editorial team flooding Google news and social media. If you wrote well, and Yahoo was listing your blog under one of the categories on its catalog, you got attention. And even the whole "going viral" concept isn't what it used to be just a few years ago. Facebook, YouTube and other providers understand how to control the virality of content nowadays. It's hard to break through, if you don't have a massive built-in following.

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We want to re-democratize the web in a way, where the best stories from passionate voices receive the attention they deserve. We gather audiences and deliver the best pieces to those audiences to allow young writers and video producers to kickstart their careers. We give you the tools to build your portfolio. If you're good enough—not just popular enough— we show your work to an appropriate audience and see if it sticks.

What is the difference between Moviepilot, and other CMSs like WordPress, Squarespace, and Drupal?

We don't like to put Drupal and MoviePilot into one sentence. But then again, your examples are a great showcase of the complexity and flexibility of CMS (and I love Drupal, don't get me wrong). On one end, you have Drupal and to some extent WordPress. They are highly flexible, you can even program all of your own plugins and operate as a full publisher and e-commerce site. Then you have companies like Squarespace in the middle, who find a great balance between customizability and predefined templates and formats. This model is ideal for small businesses or general people who want a great product without all the clutter. And on the other end you have companies like Tumblr, Medium, and us. We want to get all the clutter out of the way and give you a simple but beautiful way to let your creativity flow.

Design is clearly central to your product. Can you explain how good design can amplify content?

On social media you need to quickly grab attention, or your target simply scrolls past it or jumps back. But most content is more than just words; it's the combination of images, text, proper headlines and quotes. So when design can support and make an article look beautiful, the content will have a better chance of recognition.

How does your backend infrastructure work?

The whole user-facing platform is written in react.js / redux, with a thin node.js layer for pre-rendering to have a dom ready if a Google-bot stops by. Internally we use micro services primarily written in Ruby.

The communication is done via rabbitMQ and we store the data in a variety of databases, from MySQL to Redis to CouchDB and Neo4J. Basically each microservice chooses its own storage engine, whatever fits best.

But all information is pre-processed and stored in Elasticsearch when our frontend is accessing the data. Even though we have very different databases to store the raw data, the pre-processed data is optimized for rendering and fast delivery. This is done as simple key value in Elasticsearch as it feels like the most robust and scaleable database.

We optimize for horizontal scaling, where each server basically hosts all of the information necessary to deliver any request. API, node.js, ElasticSearch client, rabbitMQ client, etc. is installed locally on each node, so very little network connection is used locally.

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On top of that is a CDN where we actively publish changes. So the CDN is all the user interacts with. This gives a speed advantage and reduces our server costs. We don't use any virtualization, but believe in calculating the actual operating cost per page view. Every test with virtual hosting providers increased the costs per page view dramatically. We now run on actual low-cost hardware and follow the Google model of rather having a few more redundant machines, but each machine can do all of what's necessary. Today we have our costs at roughly 0.12 USD per 1,000 PVs, that includes all of the hardware, CDN and services that we use (not included is the video CDN). We run our infrastructure in Germany, even though we deliver >80% of our page views to the U.S.

What does the near future of web publishing look like?

The future of publishing is in the hands of the people; the re-democratizing of the web. Everyone can choose to be a publisher; a trend that we see in a number of industries already, but not that much in "online journalism." You can publish your own book, you can be an independent music producer, or produce your own YouTube show.

It all comes down to the creativity and the distribution. The CMS is the tool to support creativity and when you can combine that with mass distribution, any talented voice has a shot.

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About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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