Harvard Friday Five

Friday Five round-up: our top five tech and comms stories from July 2017

Lee Menzies-Pearson

07 Aug 2017

It’s a new month, which means another round-up of our favourite stories from July’s weekly ‘Friday Five’ newsletter. Last month was action-packed, with Nike trialling shopping through Instagram, Eddie the intern somehow transforming England’s most hated railway line, and Snapchat continuing to make waves attracting advertisers. I’ve pulled together my five favourite stories below. Sign up to our Friday Five newsletter if you like what you see, and get more like this in your inbox every week.

Facebook is testing paywall subscription tools

Facebook announced that it plans to test a paywall system for subscription news sites. This would allow users 10 free articles per month from certain media outlets, before prompting them to sign up for a subscription. The pilot is part of Facebook's efforts to fix two critical (and linked) problems: first, stop fake news cluttering up users' feeds. Second, support high-quality publishers that are losing huge chunks of ad revenue to social platforms like Facebook itself. It's not clear yet which publishers will take part in the trial, but perhaps premium publishers like the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal could be tempted?

Snapchat opens up Paperclip to third parties

Snapchat is showing no signs of slowing down with another new announcement this week, this time opening up its app to third-party links through a new feature called Paperclip. This lets users attach a link to a photo or video and mimics a similar feature from Instagram that gives verified accounts the ability to add links into their stories. In essence it opens up further potential revenue streams for brands, publishers and influencers – a clear priority now that Snap is a listed business with shareholders to keep happy. But this is a strong move and opens up the platform to influencer endorsements, ensuring they can promote and link back to the content they’re being paid to promote. With the platform over indexing among millennials, it's easy to envisage stars like Zoella promoting branded content on Snapchat soon.

Eddie the Intern boosts Southern Rail

Rail operator Southern Rail has probably suffered the worst reputational damage of any company in the UK over the last couple of years. So it was interesting to see it get something of a reprieve from the public this week when "work experience Eddie" took over its Twitter channel. This was a high-risk, high-reward comms approach from Southern Rail: an experiment that could easily have gone wrong, it instead attracted plaudits and seemed to soften the company's reputation. One Twitter user even said Eddie achieved more in two days "to recover Southern's reputation" than the company had done in the past two years. But was this all a cynical stunt in a week when the company also got a £13m fine for poor service?

Amazon takes inspiration from Instagram 

Amazon launched a new feature called Spark this week, an image sharing platform inspired by Pinterest and Instagram’s shoppable pictures, and an attempt by the e-commerce giant to capture some of the social activity around products and translate it directly into purchases. Currently this feature is only available on the Amazon iOS app to Prime members, but it highlights how Amazon is moving beyond just product search to product discovery. If the traditional Amazon website was a Google for shopping, which you went to when you knew what you wanted to find, then Spark is more like Facebook - a feed based on things you want to follow, without knowing exactly what you'll get. Lots of people have tried to merge shopping and social, generally with little success. If Amazon can crack it, the prize could be enormous. Early feedback has been positive.

Citymapper to launch first commercial bus route

Back in May transport app Citymapper launched a trial bus service round a short route in central London. It was an entirely unexpected move, but it turns out it wasn't a flash in the pan: Citymapper has now been approved by TfL to run a commercial night-time bus route in East London from August. The company has been able to identify a suitable route by noticing demand on its app where there are gaps in existing public transport infrastructure. For a software business to launch its own transport service is still pretty rare - ridesharing firms like Uber don't own their fleet because it's so costly, for instance, and Tesla only makes cars it can sell for premium prices - so this is an ambitious decision, especially for a relatively small UK startup. But it shows how real-time data, applied intelligently, can start to make a difference in the real world. Sign up to our Friday Five newsletter to get stories like these in your inbox every week