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Unlike Honda, newsrooms can’t use Building Blocks

Published May 31, 2021
Updated Jun 06, 2021

The most complex piece of engineering in a car (or aircraft) is the engine. It takes years to design, develop, test and put an engine (combustion or electric) into mass manufacturing.

Hence, car companies reuse the same engine to launch products at different price points that target different consumer segments. Let’s take the example of Honda. Honda Civic, Honda CRX, Acura Integra, Honda Orthia, and Honda Stepwagon all reuse the same engine. This strategy allows product managers at these car companies to identify needs for new target markets, tweak the product look and feel, and launch new products.

This strategy is employed in the aircraft industry too. The GE F404 engine powers 15 fighter planes: Phantom Ray, T-7, X-45C, SAIA 90, Rafale A, A-6F Intruder II, X-29, Tejas Mk 1/1A, F-117, T-50, F/A-18, F-20, Model 400, Rockwell-MBB X-31, and A-4SU.

The Building Blocks method

The way this typically works is that the first few levels are foundational engineering. From a specs point of view, these need to be so far ahead of their time that they provide a significant absolute advantage to the company.

In Muji’s case, a consumer goods company, it was not one technology but a process innovation: Selection of material, Streamlining of process, and Simplification of packaging.

In Apple iOS’s case, its OS, App Store, server farms, standard operating procedures, payment infrastructure, etc., build up the foundational layers. Changing the bottom layers takes years.

Next, product managers, designers, marketers, and application developers can launch consumer-facing apps that solve real problems for customers. The top two layers should be agile so the business can react quickly to customer needs.

In the iOS case, the exposed SDK and apps that developers make are the final two layers.

Let Steve Jobs explain it

Why can’t newsrooms apply this to build editorial products?

The 10,000-pound, giant, evil Gorilla in the room that wants to keep innovation in editorial products broken is the legacy Article Page, also called posts in WordPress.

News is the fastest moving consumer good. Hence, the foundational building blocks should allow going live with new editorial apps in less than two days of news break. The article page has its place in the future but it won’t be the future.

It leaves out code, data, algorithms, and purpose-driven user experience and makes it second-grade citizens in editorial innovation. Often CMS that is built for articles cannot publish interactive stories. Hence, interactive stories in these newsrooms are published on a sub-domain with a separate CMS.

More on the evils in the below article. (Oh no, article again! It’s everywhere!)