Google is reportedly working on its own mobile news format. Called Stamp, the idea is meant to compete with Snapchat Discover and make stories easier to publish in a format that’s easily digestible on mobile and in a way that’s more engaging for younger audiences. Building off the success of AMP in speeding up publisher websites that are found via search, Google now wants to introduce more of a standalone format that would present stories in new and interesting ways.
It’s an intriguing idea and the notion that media formats need to evolve isn’t wrong. But I can’t help thinking it’s just another instance of purposely fragmenting media in a way that is harmful in the long run.
First, there are just so many players right now it’s a bit overwhelming. In addition to Snapchat Discover, there’s Flipboard, Nuzzel, Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News and countless other players who are all working to gain traction with the mobile news audience. While Stamp would apparently work within Google search and other apps, it still means another place that people would need to turn to for news.
Second, it’s not clear if Snapchat is exactly the best model to be following right now. The company seems overly-susceptible to the fluctuations of the ad market. While there’s good news in the wake of WPP making a major investment in Snap’s ad products, those fortunes can easily be reversed if user acquisition continues to be flat or if the demographics of that user base change substantively.
Third, this is another innovation that smaller media brands will likely be largely locked out of. Snapchat Discover only consists of a handful of hand-picked brands deemed to be relevant to the audience and who commit to high levels of content production. Getting started on Facebook Instant Articles is a laborious process. Curating a Flipboard magazine takes significant time. Those may not be insurmountable hurdles for CNN, Vox Media, The Washington Post and other media brands who often jump in, but they lock out smaller operations who don’t have the staff to scale to yet another platform.
Finally, an argument could be made that Discover is not the kind of model that publishers are currently paying attention to. Because it’s closed arena, only letting select members past the velvet ropes, publishers have instead been adapting to the “Stories” format that’s used by Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter, the latter using “Moments” as the term du jour.
That makes me think once more that Google missed a big opportunity by not investing more in Reader. It allowed people to curate a collection of links via “Shared Items” that was displayed to other Reader users who had opted to follow them. Shared Items could have easily, it seems to me, been pivoted into a tool that let people not just curate single stories but assemble a “Story” based on what they’re reading. A bookmarklet browser extension could have allowed for additional, non-Reader stories to be added as well.
We may know more about Google’s Stamp later this week as the company is said to be testing it in the very near future. But the company is now following a trend it could have innovated and which may be the wrong model for an all-inclusive media world.