In My Opinion: Jeff Moriarty: The ‘devolution’ of the web and how it might impact on Scotland

SCOTLAND is a proud nation. That is widely known, appreciated and seen by us every day as we monitor social media and the performance of stories across Scotland.

In the past month, the most viral content we’ve seen has included a bagpiper who played over a hate preacher, the cover of a song by a beloved Edinburgh-based band and a collective pride that the Scottish islands were named one of the best places to raise children.

It is, in fact, this pride and involvement from more than two million people that we see every month that drives the engagement and contributions by our readers across our newspaper websites, The Scotsman and Edinburgh Evening News.

But now, 200 years after its founding, The Scotsman, and newspapers like it, are undergoing another shift as the old web is dying and becoming dominated by ‘the platforms’.

We’re seeing a continued ‘devolution’ to these platforms that are taking over the ‘old web’ (as discussed, here).

While, at its heart this is nothing new, the shift is profound, and I would argue has accelerated in the past few months.

Last month, it was reported (here) that Facebook had surpassed Google as the top source of traffic to news sites. Within Johnston Press, we know that 70 per cent of our users never visit our homepages, a proportion that continues to grow.

All of these factors add up to show how quickly things are changing, and at the same time, proving that it is the content and local relevance that really matters.

Time and again, as we publish into these new channels, we see that the stories with emotion, pride and local relevance resonate on the social platforms and go wider than anything ever before.

This brings us to a place where we are beta launching a new responsive-design next week, along with native applications across IOS and Android, with smart, dynamic content delivery and targeting capabilities.

The best publishers are remaking the underlying technology and approach of their newspapers to be destination-agnostic, taking the content to the users via new apps, responsive designs and content APIs that allow them to distribute new and old content more quickly and effectively.

We also know that users are increasingly blocking ads, now possible in IOS9, which makes native advertising even more important. This also means that our local publishers need to be in a position to offer content marketing to local businesses.

It also will drive us all to develop useful and effective native applications for our most loyal users, with smart inclusion of advertising that can’t be blocked by browser-based ad blockers.

Just because we are the local press, with a tradition of serving multiple communities dating back decades, it does not mean that we can escape the need to respond to these broad shifts in usage. As the web continues to move to these platforms, it is incumbent on local publishers to continue to change, experiment and distribute to the ‘new web’.

Jeff Moriarty is chief digital and product officer at Johnston Press.