Hacks/Hackers London: News for millennial investors, engaged journalism and data leakage to Facebook

Three talks from the April 2019 Hacks/Hackers London, from Finimize, the Engaged Journalism Accelerator and Privacy International

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

My liveblogged notes from the Hacks/Hackers London meeting on 24th April 2019, held at Twitter UK. More details and videos can be found on the Hacks Hackers London site.

Max Rofagha, Finimize

Finimize is a London Fintech, for some young professionals who have built up some savings, but don't know where to invest them. They produce "snackable" content and a community around the investing.

Max was on a mountain in Switzerland, and realised that he had to start saving - but as the savings grew, he didn't know what he should do with them. Even his friends working in banks didn't know what to do, and financial advisors were making sales pitches for their own products. There were a problem here, and he wasn't alone: 86% of millennials save, but over 50% keep their assets in cash. Where could they get suitable financial advice?

Max started with a newsletter, with under a 3-minute read time. (They tried with a WordPress site first - but nobody came there.) They have 350k subs now, with no marketing spend.  Community wasn't the plan - but it started growing anyway. It started - much like Hacks/Hackers - in an East End pub. They now use user hosts to hold events worldwide: Europe, the Americas, Africa.

Recipe for success

Why are they successful?

  • No jargon.
  • Under 3 minutes
  • Explain the two big stories of the day.

The next step? Helping people invest. They built a financial planning prototype - but they ended up binning it. People don't need a slick new app. They need know-how. The financial industry is clinging to that information for itself, because information is power.

They try to run multiple experiments in their product each week, trying to define where they can improve funnel steps. They build a set of hypothesis that they test.

The Finimize Phases

  • Financial awareness: daily news, which has evolved from the newsletter to an app.
  • Financial understanding: Finimize Packs - a subscription package giving you investing guides, available as audio or written articles.
  • Financial action: Providing a Yelp or TripAdvisor for financial products. Next? Taking their offline events and bringing them online.

They think audio is a big opportunity - they've really just launched it in the app, and it's simple: just a read version of the text. Could they go audio first?

Ben Whitelaw, European Journalism Centre

What is engaged journalism? It's not a new idea - but it is an important one. It's journalism that puts community engagement at the centre of their ownership, reporting, distribution, impact and revenue. It has to be spread throughout the organization, not held in a single "engagement editor".

The Engaged Journalism Accelerator is funding 12 organisations to look inwards, and figure out what they need to become sustainable. They working on platforms, process and models for engaged journalism. It's often not sexy reporting work, but it's not critical.

Pairing them with mentors is an important part of what they're doing - more important than they expected. They hold events and do video calls to help people build their own networks.

They've built a database of 100 organizations they think are doing interesting work in engagement. They write case studies to inspire other organisations to experiment.

They published a report called Changing the chip: what would journalism look like if it was generated within communities? based on a workshop they held last year in Madrid. One central finding is that these organizations spend much longer meeting their community face-to-face, and they ask for more feedback than other organizations. For example: Decât o Revistā's pop up newsroom in Alba Iulia, Romania.

Other key learnings

Be open and accessible: explain the process of journalism, use language to show you're committed to doing things differently, and include feedback from the community in your metrics.

Avoid parachuting into communities: commit to the community. Build channels of communication with local organizations, and share metrics with then so you can work on reaching them together.

Work out how trust powers revenue: learn from existing research and projects, work with other organizations and research partners to make it happen, and stop doing things that you know don't have a clear business benefit.

Constantly check newsroom culture: make sure everyone can articulate you mission, and that you people and process are accountable to the community. Let the community help shape your products and services.

A couple of points from the Q&A:

  • Ben is skeptical of the need of every organisations to achieve scale. We shouldn't let the tech world's obsessions with scale infect us.
  • Do we all need to do breaking news? Many of the organisation they're working with don't, but still have tens of thousands of paying subscribers.

Frederike Kaltheuner, Privacy International

Privacy International is a non-profit working on government surveillance and privacy worldwide.

42.55% of Google Play Store apps share data with Facebook. What does this look like in practice? They looked at a range of apps with between 10m and 500m installs. 61% of the instantly transfer data to Facebook the moment you open the app. Some apps send incredibly detailed and sensitive data. Kayak shares your journey details. This happens even if your don't have an account with Facebook.

Why does this matter? You can build detailed profiles of people with this information. These apps have over 2bn installs - 3rd party tracking is a complete nightmare. However, by March 2019, 2/3rds of apps had updated to remove this tracking. That leaves many who still do share data. And many of those that have broken the links with Facebook still do other problematic tracking.

  • Hacks: report on this.
  • Hackers: rethink third party tracking. Use them selectively and responsibly, send no more than you need and give people the choice.
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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.