Audience Engagement Digital Publishing Top Stories
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“A traffic cannon to amplify publishers’ content”: Why Mozilla’s Pocket is a serious weapon in any publisher’s armoury

Awarded by Google as one of the “Best apps of 2022″, the read-it-later app Pocket has enormous reach because of its presence on the Firefox News Tab where it surfaces content recommendations. Carolyn O’Hara, Pocket’s Senior Director of Content Discovery, tells WNIP how publishers can get involved.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Pocket is a read-it-later app that helps users discover the most interesting articles from across the web and store them in one place. The app can also read any saved stories back to the user, essentially functioning as a podcast of back-to-back articles.

Available on iOS and Android, Pocket has a loyal user base of approximately 2M monthly active users as well as 4M subscribers to its daily newsletter, Pocket Hits. It also has a small user base of 60,000 premium subscribers.

While Pocket has a successful syndication program with over 60 publishers, including Fast Company, Inc. Hearst and Bloomberg Media, it was the app’s acquisition by Mozilla in 2017 that propelled the company to another level – its reading recommendations are now fully integrated into the Firefox News Tab, reaching well over 40M monthly users in the process.

We do recommendations to our Pocket users and that’s a real focus, but we also amplify the recommendations onto the Firefox browser. This enables us to access a non-Pocket audience and get our recommendations in front of them.

Carolyn O’Hara, Senior Director of Content Discovery, Pocket

Because of this integration with Firefox, the impact on traffic can be profound. At science magazine Nautilus – as one example – the app often accounts for more than 20% of monthly web traffic.

With Pocket, syndicated pieces that normally get 100,000 page views per month increased to over 700,000 per month.

John Steele, Publisher, Nautilus

Content recommendation powered by users

Carolyn O’Hara, Pocket’s Senior Director of Content Discovery says that its recommendations carry greater impact because they are powered by the app’s users themselves. In an interview with WNIP, she said, “Our recommendations are powered by what people save to Pocket, as well as share, across our markets – so we know what content is really inspiring and engaging people.”

In addition to its users, the app also relies on AI and machine learning, as well as curation expertise from Pocket editors, resulting in recommendations that O’Hara says are “human-centric – like from a friend that knows you well.”

Saving an article is a very deep, personal action, and because of this, our users provide us with a unique set of engagement signals. Essentially, they surface hidden gems from around the web for us to recommend to other users. It ensures a diversity of topics and publishers, especially smaller publishers.

Carolyn O’Hara, Senior Director of Content Discovery, Pocket

And the content people are saving? O’Hara says that pre-pandemic there was an emphasis on life hacks, smart working and productivity. Now that’s changed to human connection, “People are looking for human connection, tips on how to live better, how to be kinder to yourself – the emphasis has changed.”

Getting involved with Pocket

O’Hara says that any publisher can get involved with Pocket, “Anyone on the internet can put a Pocket button on their website, and this is a key way to get onto Pocket recommendations. If users are then saving content onto their personal Pocket, that’s a huge signal for us that the content is special.”

It’s an easy integration download from our website, really short source code. And you can also modify the button so it appears like other social buttons on your website.

Carolyn O’Hara, Senior Director of Content Discovery, Pocket

“We don’t take pitches from publishers and we don’t accept RSS feeds. But look, we’re talking to publishers all day long, and we live and die by great content on the web. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”

Unearthing evergreen content

Whilst O’Hara warns that adding a Pocket button is not a silver bullet, she says that the app’s syndication model (currently U.S. only) has proved successful, especially in unearthing evergreen content, “We license older, evergreen content from publishers that’s often sitting on a digital shelf somewhere, and we work with these publishers to license these articles and re-promote them via our recommendation channels.”

We’ll pass data back to publishers so they can see what evergreen stories still have traction, and what readers are still interested in. That’s helpful for them in knowing what evergreen verticals people are interested in.

Carolyn O’Hara, Senior Director of Content Discovery, Pocket

Pocket has also recently accelerated its partnerships with publishers around curated Pocket Collections, which give users special access to explore the stories behind journalists’ articles and podcast episodes. As part of this, Pocket has partnered with new curators including WIRED, The Atlantic, PRX, Slate, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Context and the News Literacy Project.

Our Pocket Collections are far more collaborative and they go much deeper, helping celebrate the publishers, writers and humans who are actually doing the work behind the scenes. It pulls back the curtains and helps readers connect even deeper. It also gives publishers a far wider reach across Firefox.

Carolyn O’Hara, Senior Director of Content Discovery, Pocket

The future and heading off competition

It’s not all been plain sailing for Pocket and the app has had to keep on its toes to fend off competition, particularly from read-it-later startups like Matter and free, open-source alternatives like Omnivore. Indeed, in response, 2023 has already seen it make two significant changes to its mobile reading experience and the Home tab now includes a curated reading experience with both editorial picks and recommended categories, making it simpler for users to discover new content.

Overall, O’Hara is excited for the future:

We’re fully integrated with Mozilla and we align well with them – their mission statement is ‘the trusted guide to a joyful internet’ and that embodies Pocket DNA’s through and through.