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.
And -- as of last week -- a big chunk of it is now owned by one company. Last week, the New York-based Betaworks announced it had acquired the first read-it-later service, Instapaper, from its founder and developer, Marco Arment. According to his blog post, Arment concieved and executed the purchase in a day; fans of the service (I count myself one) celebrated (or at least tweeted celebratory things), for recently Arment's development of Instapaper seemed to have stalled.
But with Instapaper's acquisition, Betaworks stuck a hand in another part of the hypertext ecosystem. Think back to our hypothetical, article-beginning story.
- Any link in any tweet from a news organization was probably shortened to something cute and custom -- and the market leader there is Bit.ly, owned by Betaworks.
- Even before that, the publication might use a tool to figure out when it should post stories on Twitter -- a tool sold by a company like Social Flow, which is owned by Betaworks.
- Littorally-proximate journalists will likely use a real-time analytics dashboard -- like Chartbeat, a Betaworks product.
- The leading social news aggregator of the moment is Digg, which--yes--Betaworks purchased and remade last summer.
And when someone saves a story for later, they're likely to use the oldest product in that space, the product which has advertised on the Howard Stern Show and given itself away as Starbucks's free app of the week: Instapaper.