The internet is a noisy place. Publishers looking to rise above the cacophony have to make their sites and services as frictionless as possible: it’s no surprise that one of the primary applications of user data is in streamlining a user journey to paid consumer.

But Bloomberg doesn’t have a typical consumer funnel and selling its primary product – the Terminal – isn’t necessarily the goal of its publishing wing. Despite that, with products like its newly-launched Chrome extension and iOS app ‘Lens’, Bloomberg has found a way to monetise a frictionless user experience, as its global head of digital innovation Michael Shane explains:

“We want to make money with it as we do with everything we do at Bloomberg Media. We think the best way to do that is first to make everything great for users, and then everything will take care of itself.”

Lens, through clever use of Postlight’s Mercury API and Bloomberg’s own business data, allows users to grab share price and other information on companies mentioned in an online article. The press release states:

“When Lens recognizes companies or people in an article, it automatically grabs data from Bloomberg and other sources about those objects and gently alerts the reader that there’s data to see. For instance, if you’re reading a story about Tesla from your favorite national newspaper and activate Lens, we’ll deliver additional data, context, and relevant news about the companies and executives named in the piece.”

The idea, says Shane, isn’t to take revenue or attention away from other publishers (“when we designed the product our starting point was one of humility. We didn’t want to encroach on other publishers’ ads or monetisations”) but to reduce the effort required for a user to find out the necessary context to really understand the story. In an age where savvy people – the kind that Bloomberg likes to think of as its audience – are increasingly checking multiple sources for stories, reducing the friction of doing so is a valuable service.

 Matt Quintanilla, director of product design at Postlight, explained how that issue is exacerbated on mobile devices:

“Even the act of trying to invoke a button to get the new tab, to focus on the new tab, to type up the name of what you’re reading about, to remember what you’re reading about, all of that is a lot of friction for users, particularly on a device that has a lot of obstructions built into it already.

“It’s really been interesting to see how many people have responded to how easy it is to do that in an article on a phone. Because this is a Labs project we have really aimed at specific types of technology and look at what’s next, what’s on the horizon for us.”

Shane explained that, since a significant proportion of Bloomberg’s readers come in on mobile devices, the iOS version was priority for them (an Android version is also in development).

So if the goal of Lens is to improve the overall user experience online, how does that benefit Bloomberg?

For one thing, the fact that nobody else has yet come up with a similar product (Shane: “It’s totally unique; I would go so far as to say no-one else in the world except Bloomberg and Postlight can build this – except maybe Google, but they’re not interested in building something like this”) means that any users who do become habituated to using Lens are likely to associate Bloomberg with the service. Being first into a space like this is vital, particularly as online brand erosion becomes a real threat to many publishers.

Also, as Shane explained, Bloomberg always has one eye on monetisation of new products, and Lens offers the capability sponsorship revenue – in a ‘subtle’ way:

“There’s the opportunity for sponsors to integrate their branding, small ‘sponsored-by’ logo and then the only ad placement is in the list of company tickers on the first page that you load… [it] will allow a sponsor to serve a clickable ad unit there that’s the same size as everything else.

“If the user clicks on it, we’ll take them into a full page within the borders of Lens or on iOS a full-screen ad experience that’s really custom for this product.”

But for sponsorship of the product to be truly viable, it’s going to require some KPIs to demonstrate that users actually want to use it. Quintanilla explains that during the testing phase it became second nature for the team to click on the Chrome extension icon when it flashed (again, ‘subtly’) to alert the user that information was available. However, that’s no guarantee that users will respond in the same way now the product is out and in the wild.

Shane acknowledges that due to the nature of the product, developing KPIs has also been a work in progress:

“At this point it’s a brand-new product and it’s hard to get people to use new stuff on the internet. However, we are looking at uniques. It’s a web app so the core analytics package is Google Analytics so we’re looking at engagement.

“When companies and people are served, how many times are they tapping around? We’re trying to get a proxy for ‘is this useful for people?'” 

To coin a phrase, nobody ever went broke overestimating the importance of user experience. It’s early days yet for Lens, but given Bloomberg’s position within the market and its shrewd idea of its audience’s needs, it’s definitely a product to watch. We’d be surprised if more publishers weren’t trying this kind of off-site context provision before the end of the year.