Why the Homepage is Dead

3 minute read

When was the last time you visited the homepage of your preferred news source? I don’t. The homepage is dying, in the world of ever growing social media use, links and Google searches, fewer and fewer readers are seeing what news websites editors are deciding what the most popular stories of the day are. There has arguably, been a transition to a quasi home delivery service, but online, where news services in 2015 must battle for our attention and deliver the news to the reader where the same scarcity of the pre web 2.0 world no longer exists.

According to analytics firm Parsely, Facebook now represents about 40% of referrals. The New York times has seen a 50% decline in traffic to its homepage as per the Innovation Report. It’s no wonder that such social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter as well as Google are so interested in the business of news.

Facebook this year launched Instant Articles where news publishers will be be able to publish stories on Facebook, Yes, that means such stories will be hosted on Facebook. This is evidence of news publishers trying to make it easier for readers to consume their content but Facebook also have an interest in providing quality content, keeping users on Facebook longer. The problem Instant Articles solve is one of speed — Readers are more likely to read something if they don’t have to click a link but can consume something within the platform they’re using. While Facebook’s Instant Articles are promising for the future of news and the negotiation of new business models in rapidly transforming online environments, critics are quick to point to a future of journalists being employed by technology companies such as Facebook.

In response to Facebook’s Instant Articles, Google in collaboration in Twitter is working on the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project. AMP is a new open-source standard that enables an app to pre-load a browser page; this includes all its content and advertising. The whole point of AMP is again, similar to Instant Articles, of speed. The idea is that if you’re on Twitter, and you click a link, the story will instantly load within the app. By improving the user experience of having a website preloaded by an app, a user is once again more likely to click that interesting link. WordPress, one of the biggest publishers on the web announced they were working on a plugin for Google’s effort to make the mobile web a faster and better overall experience. I’m running the plugin on this blog and you can view the AMP version of this article here.

The major difference between Google’s AMP project and Facebook’s Instant Articles is the open-source and access nature of AMP. Instant Articles is a proprietary product is served within the Facebook ecosystem, whereas Google and Twitter hopes that many companies and web publishers will adopt AMP. Another major difference is that AMP preloads the webpage in a cached form, but all content, ads and tracking is still served by the website itself. Instant Articles is hosting all the content directly, and it could be argued many publishers are uncomfortable with this notion.

There’s a larger story to be told here — the unbundling of online news publishers content across the web. No longer should publishers expect readers and consumers will go to them, but they need to find the readers. Media content will be consumed on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Youtube. Look no further than BuzzFeed’s current business model. BuzFeed don’t care where their content is consumed, whether it be on any of the various social media platforms. They don’t rely on traditional advertising but instead generate revenue through ‘native advertising’. The potential ethical implications of this is a completely different matter. Are they deceiving their readers by creating content which is in fact an advertisement? Whatever the case, in the mean time, BuzzFeed represents an interesting case study and is a successful example of the death of the homepage as we know it.

The homepage is a homage to old antiquated media models — the website serves as a traditional ‘publication’. Media ecologies continue to rapidly transform and thus, new media architecture is introduced. Not only do these new paradigms present the possibility of new revenue streams and more readers online, but as Jeff Jarvis argues, “content is being set free.”