If you follow Brazil and you're on Twitter, you likely know Sérgio Charlab, a Brazilian journalist who does an incredible job of aggregating news about Brazil in English. He's incredibly agile at sharing and condensing both breaking news headlines and the best enterprise stories.
Now, he's testing out a new distribution service on Whatsapp - the first Brazilian broadcast news service on the chat app. He sends top stories throughout the day, as well as the front pages of the major Brazilian newspapers each morning. Each headline comes with an image and authors' Twitter handles, making it easy to reshare on Twitter.
Charlab is a veteran Brazilian digital journalist. Three decades ago, he used HTML, a novelty back then, to get Jornal do Brasil online, making it the first Brazilian newspaper on the web. During that time, Online Journalism Review named him as one of the "50 International Names to Know" in digital news. He's had a long career in newspapers and magazines, as well as publishing two books. He's always liked to combine his passion for journalism and technology.
Via email, I asked Charlab about his work on Twitter and Whatsapp to understand his strategy.
How long have you been doing the @scharlab Twitter, and why did you start it?
I started sharing Brazil related news regularly in 2012. It was the visible part of my attempt to understand and partially automate all human judgements related to finding, reading, evaluating and sharing news.
Why did you decide to start the Whatsapp service?
Since the 1990s, (now defunct) Pointcast there have been countless services with the ambition to define "The Future of Online Publishing." Twitter may have been the one that came closest to the way this elusive future is shaped in my mind. Unfortunately, that still unreachable goal alone can't sustain Twitter investors' eagerness to get value for their money in this competitive field.
As Twitter expands its focus of attention, it loses part of that journalistic appeal and dilutes its heft as a tool to share news. At the same time, 'one to one' services like Snapchat or Facebook's WhatsApp not only now grow faster than Twitter, but also have been adding "one to many" tools. That allows one person/organization to directly distribute content to many. I was waiting for this effervescent moment, and as soon as WhatsApp also launched a web version I knew it was time to start playing more seriously with it.
How do you divide your time between WhatsApp and Twitter? How do you decide what goes on which platform?
To feed Twitter, I've developed a plethora of tools/ways to find news content to aggregate. Those who follow the Twitter handle know that, if I wish, hardly a piece of content or tidbit data on Brazil escapes me. What many don't know, is that I also developed a capacity to gather this content very quickly after it gets published online originally.
I read or parse all data, instead of just resharing as is very common online. Once I get content suitable to aggregate, I schedule it for the next appropriate time spot on Twitter—but share it immediately for the WhatsApp subscribers. They get it first and can even reshare themselves from WhatsApp to Twitter, even before the time I do it myself.
I have plenty of data from almost 50,000 tweets sharing news to understand how Twitter works best for most news consumer users. It may be surprisingly counterintuitive. I'm now doing the same with WhatsApp. I start with preconceptions which I expect to test, adapting the daily feed to the discoveries made by usage. For instance, at least for now, WhatsApp users instantly get the most "powerful" news, tidbits. These will be in much lower numbers than a regular day of posts on Twitter. Of course, WhatsApp users can always block the broadcast or silence the notifications for a while. The free WhatsApp subscription is harmless.
Do you think messenger services like Whatsapp will ultimately be more useful than Twitter for news delivery? Why or why not?
There's a shining moment for everything. Email is obviously suitable for the same "one to many" news distribution I'm doing through WhatsApp. But it has long lost its mojo. Twitter's mojo is entirely based on its enviable base of news sources and celebrities. But you already see Twitter somewhat desperately trying to keep both groups at bay—a difficult task in the exciting new apps/services launching times in which we live.
Through WhatsApp (or also Facebook’s Messenger or any new similar service) you are directly in touch with your subscribers, who of course have enough confidence in what you do to allow you to reach them in their personal mobile space. This is no small matter. Because of that, I'm very committed to maintaining the privacy of personal information of the WhatsApp readership.
Subscribers are protected by anonymity in regard to other subscribers. Only I know they're receiving the news broadcast. And differently than a WhatsApp group, in the WhatsApp broadcast if you reply to any post it won't be addressed to the group of subscribers—only to me. This kind of exchange can quickly evolve to a deeper level of personalization that would allow both service producer and subscriber to control the flow to the news consumer’s individual needs.
Ultimately, I want to give news lovers the flow of information I had dreamt for myself. Curated by great editorial minds that go through everything in detail to find and share, directly to me, what I need and what I would love to know, in the timing and frequency I appreciate best and in a format I can easily and quickly share with others.
Follow Charlab on Twitter at @scharlab and get on his Whatsapp list by emailing scharlab at gmail dot com.