As traditional publishers continue to look for the best way forward in a rapidly changing media landscape dominated by web giants like Google and Facebook and newer platforms like mobile, Scandinavia’s Schibsted Media Group has landed a prize bird from the Twitter flock to lead its data science efforts. Adam Kinney, who had been the head of Twitter’s data analytics operations, is relocating to Europe to join the Oslo-based publisher as its new head of data science.
You may recall Kinney’s name among the most recent group of senior Twitter employees who have left the company, reported at the end of October. At the time, Twitter confirmed his departure, but there was no information about where he was going. He had been with Twitter for four years and also worked at Google on its search products for more than five years before that. Schibsted tells me he will start his new role in January 2015.
“I have a passion for using data to build great products that users love. I am thrilled to be joining Schibsted because it combines a very large global audience of users with a remarkable collection of digital products and services, which generate a wealth of unique data. I am very excited to help Schibsted create innovative data-driven products and experiences,” Kinney, pictured right, said in a statement.
Schibsted may not be a household name in the U.S., but it’s a $5.8 billion company with operations in 29 other countries. This includes several top newspapers in Norway and Sweden, free-sheets in multiple markets, and a very large number of classified operations.
Classifieds, with their heavy amounts of structured and unstructured data, are a classic (excuse the pun) example of where expertise like Kinney’s will come into play. But the wider opportunity of better tracking and understanding traffic across the rest of its products will be key here, too.
That will play on Kinney’s track record as well: one of his last jobs at Twitter was leading its Advanced Analysis team, where he used Twitter’s data set to help track user interest and behavior, which in turn was used to help the company figure out what it should be building next.
Ironically, it seems that this exact question — “what products should we be building next” — has been too open-ended for some at Twitter, and sources have alleged that this is part of the reason why people like Kinney have been flying away from the social network.
But be that as it may, that underplays how aggressive publishers are becoming in their efforts to get with the tech program.
Schibsted is by no means alone in trying to get more tech-savvy with the information that’s already zooming across its properties. News Corp in 2013 poached a data scientist from Google, Rachel Schutt, to lead its efforts in the field.
Among her work, she oversees not just how the publisher uses data to target better advertising across its properties, but how that information can also be used to shape editorial and how it’s presented to readers.
This is likely going to be a template for what Kinney will do at Schibsted, too.
“There is a lot of potential in Schibsted that can be unlocked with more analytics and with the help of data science. Adam brings a wealth of experience in building and leading data science teams and engineers in delivering great insights and superior data-driven products,” said Edoardo Jacucci, VP Strategy & Data Analytics in Schibsted Media Group, in a statement. “Moreover, his experience with Twitter adds a deep understanding of the tech-driven media world and its trends and opportunities. Adam joining will greatly contribute to the success of our digital transformation.”
Kinney is not the first interesting tech hire made by Schibsted. Earlier this year it picked up Rian Liebenberg as its CTO. Liebenberg came over from London where he’d been working on mapping startups. Before that he was at Google for many years, helping build the company’s R&D efforts and being one of the main creators of Google Hangouts. (“It was my baby,” he once told me.) In the last few months, he’s helped to pick up people from Google, Microsoft, Spotify and Yahoo to build out his team.