Meet the behind-the-scenes technologies powering The Washington Post’s digital revolution
Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post raised eyebrows in 2013, but three years later, employees and readers alike are reaping the benefits. Bezos’s laser-like focus on technology — along with his deep pockets — has allowed the 138-year-old daily to meet the challenges of digital with impressive aplomb.
Growing the Post’s audience was Bezos’ initial goal for the paper, but passing the New York Times in traffic was “just something that happened along the way,” says Jeff Burkett, senior director, product strategy and operations at The Washington Post speaking at the 4A’s Transformation Conference in Miami from March 21 – 24.
The Post’s mobile app, developed by Team Rainbow and mentioned by Burkett in the video, is the most obvious consumer-facing product. Here are two behind-the-scenes technologies developed in-house by the Post engineers worth knowing about.
Bandito, launched in February 2016, is a content testing technology that tests article headlines on The Washington Post’s website in a multitude of ways: real time, across platforms, in different geolocations, against different audiences, all to determine the most engaging headline for readers at that moment in time. Then, Bandito serves that headline more frequently. It frees Post employees from having to manually change headlines and as Burkett says, lets people share content more easily, thus introducing the Post to new audiences — and for them to keep reading. “It’s great to talk about uniques,” he says, but sticking to key engagement metrics is more important.
The Post’s audience is very engaged, so “clobbering them over the head with advertisements” is not the way the newspaper operates on mobile, says Burkett. Prism is the Post’s own ad server, launched in 2013. The mandate for advertising on the mobile app was simple: no latency and “big and beautiful” imagery. To accomplish this, Prism was developed as an integration into the CMS, not as a separate entity, like many ad servers. Ads load at the same time as content, resulting in an uninterrupted user experience.
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