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Those “www2” links explained: Testing on the Washington Post’s Arc has begun

Why do users now see “www2” whenever navigating to a article page?

Some have suspected their computers were compromised. No, the answer is more intriguing from a technologist’s perspective. And a bit frustrating, too!

The www2 links are the first publicly visible evidence of a partnership between the Washington Post, the Lenfest Institute, and PMN to bring the Post’s Arc publishing platform to Philly. The partnership announced last January involves an undisclosed amount of money from Lenfest to the Post to pay for the migration, which is intended to inform implementations at other newsrooms.

The pages can be identified by JavaScript in the source code that refers to PageBuilder, ArcAds, Bandito, and other technologies proprietary to the Post. At maturity the software will replace earlier efforts, including Clickability and the Dixon project (WordPress).

In my opinion, Arc is another example of retrograde progressivism—read my essay on Bezos—as Arc wasn’t sold to the newsroom as much as it was presented and bestowed, a clear contrast from the typical purchasing process. If there was a values-driven counter-argument for WordPress and open source, it lost out to the world-domination vision of the ARC team, one part snake oil, one part CMS, and one part Bezos mystique.

No one would say that was historically a Good Website; you’d have to go back to the Knight-Ridder days for nostalgia of Black Hawk Down and a time when portals reigned supreme. Entering myself as a new employee in 2014, it was immediately apparent that product and design culture had not yet reached 801 Market (a common enough experience, see also Merril, Dave; Smallbach, Sarah; or Lind, Diana).

Not long after Terry Egger came to town, launched its most recent major redesign effort with the help of Happy Cog and Superfriendly. Although the negative business impact was immediate (and may have been avoided if more credence was given to internal arguments that we should A/B test the package), since then much focus has been on restoring traffic flows damaged by the UI change (while also trying to launch the paywall in the process). An out-of-control programmatic department has also been reigned in (maybe, I dunno actually, I black-listed from showing me an ad ever). Perhaps the clearest victory on the website has been the deprecation of Disqus in favor of Viafoura for comments, but even that switch to an ostensibly better product has resulted in negative changes to key metrics like comment volume.

But in general, executive efforts to remedy the company’s technological deficiency leave me wanting much, much more, and I’m worried about negative repercussions down the road from partnerships like Arc. Unlike many news organizations which publicly communicate plans and technologies to assist with recruitment, the Philadelphia Media Network is notably silent. This year the company hired a new Chief Product Officer and Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer, but it is not clear what priorities or strategies they are a pursuing. In the process the company laid off long-time product staffers who had demonstrated loyalty to the company throughout a tumultuous recent history.

As argued last time, the paywall/metered business model is inherently regressive in that lower-income users will pay more as share of income than higher-income users for the same news and content. (As also mentioned previously, this is doubly ironic given that Inquirer founders Norvell and Walker intended to create a Jeffersonian-style paper for the masses.)

To a point, waned are the days of metro editor-publishers who care viscerally and emotionally about their cities. Prove me wrong: Ask PMN’s publisher what he thinks about North Philly gun violence, or the director of the Lenfest Institute what he sees as the fundamental challenges of growing up in Olney. The good publisher will also worry about issues like the www2 URL’s, and whether Bezos is really the type of bedfellow we want.

Anyway, that’s the deal with the www2 links.

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