Authory wants to help journalists raise their voices

Journalists wanting a neat way to back up and showcase their writing should take a look at Authory: a new service that promises to save your work from tumbling into a digital abyss — i.e. being buried 10,000 leagues down, folded under the ceaseless deluge of new data, where few eyeballs stray.

The fee charging service also bakes in an email subscriber feature, meaning you can point your readers to your public Authory page where they can sign up to be emailed every time you post new articles.

A third strand of the product, currently in development, is to bolt on social media analytics to give writers a low friction way to monitor how their stories are performing with audiences on the big social platforms.

“In the future, you’ll receive a weekly email summary telling you exactly how many social interactions your articles from that week have generated on FB, Twitter and LinkedIn,” says founder and CEO Eric Hauch. “As a second step we plan to integrate the social media info in the UI in your Authory profile. You’ll then be able to sort articles by FB shares for example.”

“We also continuously monitor your entire article archive for social media activity,” he adds. “So if an older article of your starts to gain traction again, we’ll also tell you in the Weekly Social Shares update.”

The bootstrapping team behind Authory, which is mostly based in Germany, received a grant from Google’s European Digital News Initiative to develop their prototype but are now starting to take revenue from their first 100+ users.

Hauch reckons tools for journalists is “an underdeveloped market” — even if, as he willingly concedes, it’s also a pretty niche market for a startup to focus on.

“There are not many tools out there that are meant to be truly beneficial for journalists (and not a means to connect them to PR people, marketers etc. There are tons of those tools),” he argues. “I do this because I love quality journalism. And if recent (political) developments have shown one thing, it’s that we should pay more attention to the author of or the voice behind whatever ‘news’ we are reading.

“At the end of the day, Authory is supposed to help with that: Make it easy for people to follow the voice behind an article. And that in turn might encourage more journalists to actually develop a strong voice that people would like to trust and follow.”

In case that reference was too between the lines for you, Hauch is talking about combating the ‘fake news’ problem — by helping bona fide journalists raise their personal profile and have easy access to all their digital content.

While he’s not a journalist himself, he says he has worked in the news industry — on the managerial side. He explains that idea for Authory came to him last year, after he noticed he was often missing articles by his “favorite journalists” — “because I simply didn’t visit the websites where they published often enough to always catch their newest piece”.

“That was when I wondered why there was no simple ‘gateway’ between journalists and readers, an easy way for me as a reader to follow a journalist’s articles, regardless of where they are published (Twitter is really not good enough in that regard),” he tells TechCrunch, noting also that during research talking to writers he found many had another need: “They wanted an archive for themselves. Often they had some experience with past articles vanishing from the internet, moving behind paywalls etc.”

“At that point I decided that we could probably build something that combines a solution for both issues. That’s why Authory now has the purpose of (a) keeping track of and backing up your articles and (b) keeping your readers updated via email. All with basically zero effort for you as a journalist.”

Through a glass, digitally

Hauch first approached me to ask for feedback on Authory, given I am squarely in the target user-base for the product. And I was instantly curious, as I’d been toying with the idea of trying to build some kind of basic archive myself — say to crawl and retrieve links to all my published content, dumping headlines and URLs that into an Excel spreadsheet so I could quickly scroll through the data-set and remind myself what I’ve written in years’ past.

Thing is, when you’ve been writing online for as long as I have, and have work spread across multiple publications, you know you have a lot of articles out there somewhere, but finding a particular one can be time consuming (even if a Google site search plus keyword usually does the trick). And, as Hauch notes, sometimes stories vanish entirely if an online publication shuts down — which is something I’ve personally experienced. Turns out the Internet won’t always remember.

I certainly have no quick and easy way to access and browse through everything I’ve written — given there are thousands of articles attached to my byline. Nor have I been religiously maintaining a blog with links to everything I’ve published. Some stuff I post to Twitter, or (even more rarely) other social media, but I don’t want to spam people with everything I write as it’s not necessarily the appropriate audience.

Nor does Twitter, in any case, offer an easy route for retrieving and parsing your old tweets. Prioritizing newness is the general rule online. So, barring the odd evergreen feature, or viral smash-hit, the bulk of journalists’ articles are soon rolled under — without even a second life as fish and chip paper to show for it.

Meanwhile, the lack of a — for want of a better phrase — ‘archival overview’ of everything you’ve written can feel frustrating, as you get the sense that lots of useful stuff is probably locked up in this body of work. It is a data-set after all. And one that could be sliced and diced in interesting ways, and mined for insights and analytics if you could but get at it.

So Hauch’s pitch for Authory sounded — at least — close to what I was looking for. And I signed up in the hopes it would be able to hold up a convex mirror to the web and finally bring my archive into view. The service costs $7 per month (or $70 if you pay up front for a year), though there’s a two week free trial as standard before you get charged.

It’s worth emphasizing the product is at an early stage. It soft launched just over a week ago, and is very much an MVP right now. So it’s definitely not flawless nor bug-free.

Basic control features, such as a notifications dashboard that will let you set and change the frequency of emails to subscribers, are still in development for instance. (At the time of writing, the current default is to send one every day you’ve published new content).

If you already have a fairly large body of work online, you’ll also need a bit of patience after you sign up while all your past articles are imported. In my case there were more than 4,000 posts so I was fully expecting to have to wait a few days (which indeed was the case).

You can specify multiple publications for the service to crawl for your byline, and it also asks which of these will be publishing your work in future — presumably to reduce the load on its crawlers. (For freelancers who may not be sure exactly where their work will appear in future that approach might not work so well at auto-capturing all their bylines, though you can always manually add additional publications.) Once all your past articles have been ingested, you’ll be emailed a notification saying your Authory page is ready to view.

There are in fact two Authory pages: a private page, which is where the text (and any multimedia assets, like photos) of your articles is imported for backup; and a public page, which merely aggregates links to your content, much like Google News — so at most it will show a snippet of the article, a headline and link out to the original source.

This is for copyright reasons. A note on Authory’s website tells users they are not infringing any publishers’ terms by using the service.

“Copyrights and ownership rights do not change when using Authory,” says Hauch. “The archive of your articles is made available to you only, and nobody else. It’s meant for your private use. That’s why there is this distinction between the public and private Authory page.”

Beyond IP rights, Authory also clearly states on its website that it’s not selling users’ data to any third parties. And includes a commitment to portability — saying users can “ask us anytime to export the entire archive of articles that you keep in Authory and we’ll send it to you as an XML or HTML file via email”. Which is good.

So you could, in theory, sign up for a month, download your archive and leave. Though, clearly, Authory is hoping its wider feature-set plus ongoing backup service will prove sticky enough to keep journalists subscribing.

If you end up amassing lots of email subscribers to your public page that could also lock you in. Currently it’s not possible to export this list — ergo, if you leave, you automatically lose all your subscribers. Not so good.

What about paywalls? How does Authory retrieve articles for journalists whose publications do not freely distribute their content online? “Currently we support soft paywalls,” says Hauch. “Our system usually gets around them. For hard paywalls we’ll ask the respective journo for login details. That’s something we’ll offer in the future.”

Authory first impressions

I must admit my first feeling on landing on my Authory page was crestfallen disappointment. This was not the dense list of links I was hoping to be able to zip through to recap on all my writings. Instead, the page is essentially cut from the same sort of web template as my existing TC author page  — showing only a small number of stories (~20) per page, loosely spaced, with a list of numbers below that to click through if you want to access more screens of your content. So, in other words, no chance of a god’s eye view of the archive.

But perhaps that’s a forlorn hope. Especially in my case. 4,000+ articles would be a very big data-set to present meaningfully, even in a dense link-list or some other kind of manageable bulk-view format. So I’m probably hankering after something that’s not really practical or certainly not easy to deliver. I am also, evidently, a bit of an edge case here; Hauch notes that the current average user has fewer than 1k articles. (As it stands, I’d have to click through to the next page more than 200 times on Authory to browse through my entire archive.)

However I do think that at least a toggle for a denser display view would be a nice option for the private page. Hauch said they were aiming to make it “as pleasant to the eye as possible”. But for the private page there’s a clear argument for utility to trump aesthetics.

To dig into your archive Authory gives you a search box plus a few filter options, including for certain date periods and for the different publications where your byline lives.

Search is of course an essential feature but does also feel a bit so-what, given that manual keyword search-based data-mining is something you can pretty easily (and successfully) perform on Google, via a “site:[insert publication URL]” search — at least, assuming your work is indexed on the public Internet.

Journalists with a lot of work behind paywalls would probably take a different view. And I’ll admit, having everything you’ve written in one place should, at least in theory, accelerate your manual searching — potentially making it less arduous to go on fishing expeditions to dredge up older stories.

The filters are where I ran into the most issues with Authory, though, along with its content ingestion process not being entirely perfect. Some of my articles came back with very wonky date stamps (1970!), for example, while the publication filtering feature was entirely broken at first. And still doesn’t seem to function properly for something simple like doing a keyword search filtered by a specific publication.

These are the sorts of bugs you’d hope will get ironed out pretty quickly. The wider issue, to my eye, is that the current filter options are too limited — with, for example, a date range option that’s way too near-term focused, only going back as far as “last year”. Having an option where you could specify date ranges and/or particular years to search would be more useful IMO.

Beyond that, and all in all, I was hoping for a more powerful and pro-actively analytical tool to help visualize a body of written work by, if I can put it this way, surfacing its shape. What I really wanted was a way in to open up the data-set. Although I realize that advanced analytics features aren’t what you get in an MVP, so it’s an unfair expectation at this early stage of the product.

But — to give an example of the sorts of things I’m thinking of — I could imagine more dynamic and intelligent filters that customize some of the options displayed based on a user’s most written-about topics/themes. After all, Authory has access to your words, so it could build user-specific value by actively suggesting useful ways to slice your data-set, instead of just presenting the same old manual search box and expecting you to do most of the legwork.

Foregrounding more top-line analytics would also be good — at the moment it displays your total number of articles and gives an estimated read time per article. You can pull out other stats manually, via keyword searches, such as looking for articles containing the word ‘Facebook’ (Authory says I’ve written a total of 296). But again this relies on you knowing what to search for, so having a sense for which topics might be significant beforehand.

It would be more interesting if the platform could do some of this content quantification for you and proactively surface highlights — such as showing, for example, how your areas of coverage interest might have shifted and deepened over time.

It could also present its analysis of your archive with a few visuals — throwing in some custom infographics — to enhance the impact of the public Authory page. Journalists could then choose to display some of these graphical summaries and highlights in order to give readers a sense of what they write about, and where their expertise lies.

Currently the only custom elements on your public page are a short biog and the option to pin one of your stories to the top of the feed to keep it flagged (much like a pinned tweet).

Hauch is right that tools for journalists are underdeveloped. Although that’s likely a consequence of the industry being generally under-resourced and chronically cash-strapped, so not having big budgets to spend on R&D. So it’s not clear how much scope there is for exciting new journalistic tools to be developed given ongoing cost pressures on media businesses (which partially explains Google putting money into digital news startups; friction between traditional publishers and powerful tech platforms is another part of that story). I’m certainly not holding my breath.

For now Authory’s product focus being (primarily) on backup, and (secondly) traffic generation feels sensible — if a little uninspiring.

The service as it stands may hold the most pull for freelancers, by offering an easy way to gather a diaspora of work in one place, i.e. without having to maintain your own website or blog (though many freelancers would do that as a matter of course so they can send it to commissioning editors).

There are also of course existing tools journalists can use to manage and send their own email newsletters (my colleague Steve O’Hear has his own newsletter, for instance, powered by a service called Revue) — though these likely require a bit more effort to create, manage and send than Authory’s entirely automatic email notifications (even if the latter can’t be personalized with an intro message, though in future it will at least be possibly to set how frequently these email notifications are sent).

Many staff journalists do also have access to social media analytics tools that their publications’ social teams use — so some of Authory’s planned features on that front may well feel redundant to some writers. Although its bundling of backup, subscriber and analytics functions, along with its core mission of catering specifically to journalists, rather than their publishers, may help win it a dedicated following of hacks willing to shell out for something designed to make their life easier (for once).

“The primary use case is empowering journalists by (a) giving them full control over their own access to their content and (b) enabling them to create a following that they have full control over and that’s independent from any publisher,” says Hauch. “More concretely, we’ve users who write for five different publishers and finally they have a ‘home’ for their articles that they own and they have a way of letting their readers know about their content that they own too.”

He adds: “We’ve thought about a freemium model but we’d like to attract journalists who want to ‘invest in their journalism to invest in themselves’ (that’s how a user put it ;).”