News stories change by the second these days, and one Toronto start-up is taking advantage of that fact: Scribble Technologies Inc., a company started by two former CTV employees, is harnessing the speed of social media to help news sites ensure their coverage is as up to date as possible.
Chief executive Michael De Monte says he and co-founder Jonathan Keebler, the chief technology officer, started talking about the idea when both were working in online publishing. Watching the growing popularity of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, they agreed that traditional media would soon need new reporting techniques to compete with such immediacy.
They set out to create a real-time content management system, which wouldn’t replace existing systems, Mr. De Monte says, but would instead complement them.
For instance: As local elections unfolded across the United States in early November, visitors to several Hearst Television web pages saw updates from reporters appear on their screens automatically – without hitting the refresh button. The reporters were using cellphones to send short news items and pictures. In some cities, these mingled with tweets from the candidates themselves.
“In the past, if [users]came to one of our stories that was breaking, they’d have to sit there and hit refresh in order to see any new updates,” says Michael Gay, executive producer of digital content for New York-based Hearst Television Inc., “and we don’t think that’s a good experience.”
Mr. Gay says the live web reports, which Hearst calls Live Wires, complement live television reporting, and viewers can and do watch a story on television while following the online reports at the same time.
Hearst produces the reports using ScribbleLive software from Scribble Technologies Inc.,
Besides election coverage, Hearst Television used ScribbleLive to cover the trial of Casey Anthony earlier this year, and Reuters used it to cover the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. “They were consistently giving people up-to-date information,” Mr. De Monte says. “People started using the platform to find out what was going on in specific areas in Japan.”
Reporters can post content directly from notebook computers, tablets or smartphones. They can even make a phone call, leave a voice message and have it published in audio form, Mr. De Monte says. Publishers have a choice of letting reporters in the field post live, or making sure content passes through an editor’s hands first.
What sets ScribbleLive apart from similar tools is its ability to create complete web pages, built using the same Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) code on which most of the web is based, so that it looks just like other pages in the site. This integration means search engines pick up the real-time content, Mr. De Monte explains, and publishers can put advertising on their ScribbleLive pages, as well as use web analytics to measure traffic.
Mr. De Monte says newswire services such as Reuters and the Associated Press can syndicate ScribbleLive content to the publications that subscribe to their services, which is one reason why Scribble has “nailed down 90 per cent of the English-speaking world when it comes to the syndication of content.”
Another distinguishing feature is LiveArticle, a tool that lets reporters and editors take those short real-time updates and weave them into something that looks more like a traditional news story that evolves as updates arrive. LiveArticle even supports the formatting options one would expect with a more static article, such as wrapping text around images and highlighting quotes, Mr. De Monte says.
Scribble recently completed a $4-million round of financing led by Summerhill Venture Partners, an early-stage venture capital firm based in Toronto, but the company’s idea was a tough sell at first.
Mr. De Monte says potential clients had barely begun to see the need for such a system. Before securing its first outside investment – $350,000 from Rogers Ventures, a unit of Rogers Communications Inc., in late 2009 – “we were bootstrapped at the beginning and working off bank accounts and credit cards.”
But the founders persevered. “We knew that it was brewing underneath,” Mr. De Monte says. “We knew that at some point these news organizations were going to know that this social media was going to start eating their lunch.” That time has come, he says. Now, “we don’t really have to go out and look for leads.”
Brian Kobus, vice-president of Summerhill Venture Partners, agrees. More people are turning to social networks such as Twitter and Facebook for immediate news, he says, and “bigger news producers need to respond to that.” Mr. Kobus says Summerhill was impressed with the major news organizations Scribble has on its client list, and in talking with those customers “they had nothing but good things to say.”
Mr. De Monte says the financing “reflects the rapid emergence of real-time content and a market around it.”
While Scribble is focusing on media customers, the company and its investors see potential beyond that market. “There are lots of opportunities around business communications,” Mr. De Monte says. Businesses could use ScribbleLive to post content fast during events – he cites Apple Inc.’s much-hyped product launches as an example. “We see some pretty exciting opportunities down the road,” Mr. Kobus says.