The Company That's Buying Up All the Key Pieces of the Online-News Ecosystem

Betaworks has its tentacles in nearly every part of how stories are made, read, and measured.

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In the past couple years, an ecology of sorts has come into being among online news sites. It's the blogosphere metastized, maybe, or merged with the money of traditional media.

A web writer, or a newspaper reporter, or a far-afield staff writer finishes a story and files it into their content management system. She tweets it from her personal Twitter; her publication tweets it too. It drops into the topmost spot of the homepage.

And then it begins. Other journalists fall upon it, read it, maybe like it. News consumers find it too. They post it to Twitter. If they're really gung-ho about it, they share it on Facebook, where it accretes likes and trickles down News Feeds. They email it to friends.

Meanwhile, probably somewhere in a coastal city, in the mothership, editors flit between the articles they're writing and the metrics for the whole site. Time to check how that story is doing. So they open Chartbeat, which shows in real-time, splashed across animated pastel dashboards, how many folks are looking at a web page now, or Bit.ly, which tells them how many people have clicked a certain link on Twitter, how that compares to an hour ago, what they're doing with the link after they click it.

And oh, how this hypothetical story is doing! Enough people on Twitter share it that it catches the algorithmic notice of an aggregator, like Digg. Other readers (on a lunch break?) see it there, but don't have time to get through it, so they save it to a Read Later service, like Pocket or Instapaper. Hours later, staring at a phone or a tablet, crammed onto a subway car or recumbent in a living room, they finish it, decide whether to tweet it or excerpt it to Tumblr. They sleep.

The nighttime algorithms awake. By the next morning, if that story was one of the top five links shared that day on their feed, they may receive (in my case, at least) a morning daily digest email from Digg or Twitter. Here's What Everyone Was Talking About Yesterday, it says. Here's What You May Have Missed.

In that open-plan office, meanwhile, those same urban coastal editors squint at the logs, trying to gauge how the story did overnight, what they could've done to make it do better, if they can still do anything to juice it in the morning flurry. And, from semi-cubicles up and down seaboards, they've already begun posting the day's new articles, some of them linking back to that piece from yesterday.

This is the cycle. From a CMS to Twitter to Facebook to aggregator to analytics to Twitter to email then back to the CMS -- and, the whole time, penetrating, delighting, merging with the minds of readers and writers. This is the life of newsy hypertext in 2013, the sequence we've built by accretion.

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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