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Please Follow TidBITS in Apple News!

Shortly after we unveiled our new Internet infrastructure, I wrote “How to Read TidBITS in Apple News” (19 April 2018). That generated a brief spike in our Apple News traffic, but the readership numbers soon dropped to single digits per day. Even more annoying, for at least some people, adding TidBITS to the Following list didn’t result in them seeing TidBITS articles in their For You section. Given that the News app is pre-installed on millions of iOS devices in the US, UK, and Australia and that we cover Apple-related topics, it was almost unimaginable that so few people would see our articles.

Frustrated, I eventually managed to make contact with Apple’s Publisher Relations team. In a call, I learned a few things about how the Apple News algorithm works that enabled me to make some adjustments to how we’re publishing there.

Training Takes Time and Quantity

First, it seems that Apple News is focused on large publishers and therefore needs quite a number of articles for training its natural language parser. Since we publish only about 50 articles per month, whereas a large publisher might release several times that per day, I was told that it could take several months before the algorithm knew what to do with our content.

Happily (if a little suspiciously), a few days after I scheduled my call with Apple, it suddenly started recommending our articles to new readers despite me not having changed anything since early April.

Follow TidBITS in Apple News

Most notably, I was told that Apple News cares quite deeply about the number of people who follow a particular publication—the more followers, the more likely Apple News is to recommend that publication’s articles to other people.

Can you do me a favor if you’re in the US, UK, or Australia? Even if you don’t use Apple News regularly, please tap the heart button in the TidBITS screen in Apple News. It would be fabulous if this significantly increased TidBITS readership.

The easiest way to follow TidBITS is to click this link while reading on your iPhone or iPad, or on a Mac running the beta of macOS 10.14 Mojave, which has the News app too. Or go to tidbits.com in Safari and tap Get TidBITS > Apple News. (On an iPhone, tap the ellipsis button to the right of the TidBITS logo and scroll down in the menu to find Apple News.) Either way, you’ll be sent to the TidBITS channel in the News app. Tap the heart icon in the upper right to follow TidBITS.

Screenshot showing how to follow TidBITS in Apple News
Just tap the heart!

Alternatively, follow these steps within the News app:

  1. Tap Following in the toolbar at the bottom of the News app to bring up the Following screen. (If you’re using the beta of iOS 12, Following has been replaced by Channels.)
  2. In the search field (in iOS 12, pull down to reveal it), type “TidBITS” and when our channel appears, tap the heart button.
  3. From then on, TidBITS appears in your Following (or Channels) list, and you can access the latest stories by tapping it. Screenshot showing how to follow TidBITS from an Apple News search

New Section Names

As an Apple News publisher, I can create free-form section names and use them to categorize our articles—you’ll see those section names at the top of our channel in Apple News. Since Apple doesn’t publish any best-practices advice, I guessed that sections were mostly for users and created just two: Articles and Watchlist.

However, Apple subsequently told me that the Apple News algorithm also takes some of its cues from those names, so I’ve added more sections that match up with topic names (Apple, Mac, iOS, Cybersecurity, and so on) that people can find in Apple News when searching for specific topics of interest.

My hope is that there are a lot of people following topics like Apple and Mac, and by putting our articles into those sections manually, they’ll be more likely to be recommended to those people. Early analytics seem to bear this out—once I started populating the new sections, roughly a third of our traffic started to come from the Topic Feeds source, as opposed to about a tenth in the week before (and literally none before that).

Stats on TidBITS readership by Discovery Source

The Continuing Saga

As you can see in this Reach chart (which shows the number of unique users who saw our headlines or viewed our articles) for the last 28 days, things started to pick up on 20 July 2018 and skyrocketed shortly after that. Traffic fell off late last week, which may have been related to not publishing many new articles for a few days, but I hope it will pick up again as this week’s articles start rolling out. I’m also looking forward to seeing if our readership increases when Mojave ships, since I believe a lot of TidBITS readers prefer to read news on their Macs.

Stats on the increasing reach of TidBITS in Apple News

Regardless, I’d really appreciate it if you could follow TidBITS in your News app, even if you don’t use it regularly. Despite this large uptick in traffic, only 5 people have followed our channel in the last 28 days, and our total follower count is just under 900. Let’s see how high we can get that number!

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Comments About Please Follow TidBITS in Apple News!

Notable Replies

  1. I followed your instructions. I had followed Tidbits and the heart was red. However I never received any notifications from Tidbits. I did receive others - all on my iPad
    I clicked the heart twice, off and on again. Let’s see if I get notifications

  2. Thanks!

    Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of anomalous behavior from Apple News while watching our channel, with articles I knew were there not appearing at all, nothing from TidBITS appearing in my For You feed, and more. I hope that increasing the visibility of our channel to the Apple News algorithm will eliminate some of these problems. (Plus, I now have a contact in Apple News Operations who I can complain to if I can pin down a problem.)

  3. I’ve looking up the News link to TidBITS and been clicking on and off for a while. From what I’ve read in the media trade press, lots of :heart:️ s do help publications gain exposure to new readers.

  4. Oh how I’d love to follow TidBITS in Apple News. Sadly, there’s a Wall up between Canada and the US, presumably to keep immigrant news travelers from crossing the border. Which is to say that Apple News is not available here, despite years of providing feedback to Cupertino.

    Except for the News widget. iOS devices in Canada get the widget. But there doesn’t seem to be a way to control what news feeds are displayed by the widget. If anyone knows how to tweak the widget, please post back. But there’s no need to suggest that Apple News can be obtained by changing the region to USA. Doing so has a lot of negative consequences, as I’ve found.

  5. hi Adam,
    I would love to use News but it is not yet available in Germany.
    Maybe Mojave brings change for us.
    I wish you success!
    kind regards

           Thomas_U
  6. When Apple News finally comes to Canada, I’m in!

  7. I didn’t notice your previous request, but just did this.

    A handy note for people like me who reside in Japan or other countries without Apple News. If you just set your location in iPhone settings to U.S. then the Apple News app appears - otherwise it doesn’t.

    A further note for people in Japan - you have to temporarily set your location back to Japan if you want to register a Suica/View card with Apple Pay on your iPhone. You can then harmlessly change the location back to U.S. to take advantage of Apple News and still get on the trains with your iPhone and use it at convenience stores, charge your Suica, etc.

    doug

  8. I’m going to look forward to reading this on Mojave, like you’re suspecting. I don’t do much reading on my iPhone… so glad to know to ‘follow’ this to help on app until then.

  9. Sounds like Canada wants to block US (or at least Apple) news from migrating there! :wink:

  10. I don’t read ANY news on my iDevices and only look up specific subjects on my iMac. Local real newspaper and local/national TV newscasts are my primary source.

  11. Jeez, CBC articles appear fairly regularly in my Apple News feed. They provide a good perspective on US/Canadian relations, and articles on health and science. I didn’t realize the News app was not available in Canada; I had assumed it would be a North American thing.

    My guess is that not enough Canadian publishers agreed to sign up to make a robust news service so far. Apple is heavily curated by humans, though algorithms do play some part. I know they have substantial teams in the US, UK and Australia, and teams such as this don’t come cheap. They’d need a substantial number of publishers who are willing to dedicate staff that will submit articles that will attract a big enough audience. Think about the big messes Facebook and Twitter are in because they have not been doing much, if any, curating.

    Enough Canadian publishers might not yet be willing to split subscription or advertising revenue, Apple does get a cut of some advertising revenue as well as for subscriptions sold via the app. The number, placement and content of the placements are also strictly policed by Apple, and they are super strict about not sharing data. Apple is implementing new formats:

    A few months ago Apple bought the Texture magazine app, which was partly owned by Rogers, and there are quite a few titles available from other Canadian publishers.

    I have a feeling it won’t be long before there is some kind of combo with News, Texture and probably Music, and not far down the road, a TV component. I think more international editions will follow. However, I do suspect this service will be paid.

  12. As many others have noted here, Apple News is not available in New Zealand so we’ll have to continue reading Tidbits by email.

  13. Just tried, in the UK. TidBITS shows up, but selecting it gives “No stories”. Am I missing something.

    Jeremy

  14. First off, sorry for everyone outside the US, UK, and Australia, as I noted in the article. I still have no idea why Apple News isn’t more widely available.

    Try pulling down hard on the screen in the TidBITS channel to force it to update—you should see a spinner after pulling down. You might also check to see if Background App Refresh is enabled in Settings > News.

    This is one of those anomalous things I’ve seen.

  15. Another try from the UK and stories are appearing - so far so good

  16. Done - even though I don’t use the app.

  17. I’d done that, to no effect; but I’ve done it again, and it’s worked. Who ever said computers were deterministic?

    Jeremy

  18. Done here in Scotland too (I’d done it when I first found out that TidBITS was on Apple News). I noticed that I wasn’t seeing stories though, so I’ve gone through and clicked the “heart” icon on some of the individual TiDBITS news items that were of particular interest and some of these same items now seem to be filtering into the main feed.

  19. Sorry to hear it wasn’t working before—I’m so glad I shook the trees until I finally got through to someone at Apple. Maybe it would have all started working properly on its own, but maybe not. With luck, we’ll start seeing more organic recommendations to people who don’t already know about TidBITS.

  20. Done here in Australia (although I don’t use Apple News). TidBITS needs to be promoted - too good not to have more readers benefit!

  21. Thank you. I had Tidbits in Apple News but now my “heart” has been added.

  22. I’ve just signed up on Apple News to follow TidBITS. AN is not a tool I typically use, but…

    AN seems pretty fussy. Most of the TidBITS categories showed as empty (or server error) until I’d walked back and forth through them several times. Seems to be OK now although the pie chart show up at the top of every category. :upside_down_face:

  23. Thanks for the follows, everyone! I’ll report back in a bit once the stats settle down and we can see what the effect has been.

    I do hope that Apple News gets less flaky. Maybe you don’t notice when you’re using it casually, but whenever I poke hard or do things like you just did with looking into every section, it clearly isn’t working right.

  24. I had never used News before, but I added TidBITS as a followed source. Today (after about a week of using News), a TidBITS article appeared on the For You page!

  25. Yay—thank you! We saw a huge spike in followers—about 1000—and now I’m waiting for things to settle down to see how much it increases organic traffic.

  26. There’s a lot of potential to grow readership for TidBITS here. Some news from the latest Apple earnings call:

    “The number of articles that people read in the free, ad-supported Apple News app more than doubled in the quarter compared to a year ago, Cook said. And the number of third-party video subscriptions that Apple has sold increased by “like 100 percent year over year,” he said.”

    https://digiday.com/media/apple-tops-300-million-paid-subscriptions-reportedly-preps-new-subscription-services/

    Maybe subscription video for the Content Network?

  27. ace
    Adam Engst

        August 8
    

    Yay—thank you! We saw a huge spike in followers—about 1000—and now I’m waiting for things to settle down to see how much it increases organic traffic.

    There’s a lot of potential to grow readership for TidBITS here. Some news from the latest Apple earnings call:

    “The number of articles that people read in the free, ad-supported Apple News app more than doubled in the quarter compared to a year ago, Cook said. And the number of third-party video subscriptions that Apple has sold increased by “like 100 percent year over year,” he said.”

    https://digiday.com/media/apple-tops-300-million-paid-subscriptions-reportedly-preps-new-subscription-services/

    Maybe TidBITS should also think about adding Content Network video subscriptions to the mix?

  28. We’ll see what happens over time, but I’m generally quite suspicious of such stats from the perspective of an individual publisher because we’ve seldom seen anyone deliver on traffic promises.

    For the line in the sand, from August 2nd through August 8th, we had 831 unique viewers in Apple News and 1731 total article views. In comparison, Google Analytics says that our Web site saw 40,840 users and 51,736 pageviews in that time. In other words, Apple News is about 2.5% of our Web traffic right now. That’s way better than when it was 0% two weeks ago, but still far from game-changing.

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