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Questions You Should Ask A Third-Party Software Vendor: Part II

Last week, we posted nine questions that publishers or media sites should ask any third-party software service they are considering using on their website.

Why are we so concerned with what third-party software vendors are putting on publishing website? The experience readers have with your website is one of the few remaining things that a publisher can control, as social media networks become increasingly a go to source for news. Since technology touches all aspects of a site, from content creation, to revenue, to distribution, it falls to all teams to understand the services your business is using, beyond what a marketing website or sales person tells you.

Asking these questions, and knowing what answers to look for can make sure that the third-parties you work with, from adtech to surveys to analytics won’t hurt more than they help.

This post has the second of eighteen questions and answer segments. Read the first nine here.

Addressing Third-Party Software Concerns: Part II

Q1. Will my organization be compensated for bringing additional business or users to the third-party tool or platform? Should I inform my audience?

A1. This question can uncover how a third-party software makes money, which can point to any places where it might compromise your readers or site. Parse.ly charges customers annual SaaS license fees for our platform. Thus, organizations that use Parse.ly do not bring “additional business or users” to Parse.ly except insofar as they might tell their friends and colleagues about our service.

Though we don’t benefit financially, we encourage sites to be transparent with their readers about how their information, even anonymized information, is being collected and how it is being used. For example, uninformed users might think Parse.ly is an analytics service used for targeted advertising (it is not), and when they learn that Parse.ly is actually a service that helps website owners/operators understand their audience and content better, that might be a positive revelation for a site’s privacy-curious visitors.

Q2. How do we report on the third-party tool or platform itself as a user of the tool?

A2. While we do work with some of our clients to produce case studies or webinars for marketing purposes, we hope that our clients cover our business as they would any company. There are a number of technologies used by reporters that they may have to report on themselves, and we trust that their editorial team will cover appropriately, perhaps with disclosures that they are a user of our service, as in this article on Vocativ, which disagreed with a recent analysis we did on media coverage of the Presidential candidates.

Q3: Do I want my brand to be featured in advertising for the third-party tool or platform? If the third-party tool or platform has advertising, am I allowed to say no to certain types of advertising with my content?

A3: Our contracts do have an opt-out option for any client that does not wish that we use their name, logo and branding in our marketing.

“Unless Customer objects in writing, Parse.ly may publicly refer to Customer, including on Parse.ly’s website and in sales presentations, as a Parse.ly customer and may use Customer’s name and company logo for such purposes.” – Parse.ly Product Terms

There is one caveat to this, which is that since we use .js on a site, it is possible for the public to find out which sites we are used on, whether or not we publicly market their use of us or not. Therefore, we also add that:

Parse.ly may publicly state, including on its website and in presentations, that Customer is integrated with Parse.ly, as such integration can be determined based on publicly available information on Customer’s website.


Q4: Can the third-party tool or platform send push notifications to my users?

A4: Of course not. Parse.ly does not interact with your websites users directly in any format.

Q5. What does informed consent look like for users of my website?

A5: Readers can opt out of the Parse.ly tracking here: http://www.parse.ly/privacy-policy/

Q6: If the third-party tool or platform folds, who owns the data and content? What happens to it?

A6: For all third-party services, before using them, it’s worth doing some background checks to understand their chances of folding. These include questions a reporter would be asking about any organization they were investigating: how is the company is funded, what’s the existing customer base, and what is the most recent public company news?

In Parse.ly’s case, we are a venture-backed, private company; our content analytics dashboard came out of beta in 2012 and we launched a major update in 2015 when we added new metrics and combined our real-time and historical screens. We are currently working with close to 1,000 media and content sites. Our latest news can be found on our press page.

Though it’s hard to imagine all specifics of a hypothetical scenario, in the unlikely case that Parse.ly folded, access to the data as it exists now would likely be shut off, and our plants would stop processing the information. If there were still transition staff available after the company were to fold, we could optionally transfer raw data to customers.

Q7: Have I gotten an outside opinion from someone informed about the software we’re thinking about using?

A7: Third-party vendors should always provide you with outside references of people already using their services if you request it. We also make select case studies available on our website.

As Reading Rainbow always advised though, “Don’t take my word for it.” Make sure to ask your peers and social networks their thoughts on using a new third-party solution.

Q8: What is the minimum amount of data that I would feel comfortable sharing?

A8: The inverse of this question may help your organization decide this: what data would you be uncomfortable sharing? For anything that makes that list, check with the third-party software provider to see if they can function without it. If they cannot, can you ensure through legal departments that they are committed to keeping that data secure?

Parse.ly needs a certain amount of data to return information of value to a publisher, similar to what most analytics platforms need to properly function. However, you can always ask about data that can be stripped that you don’t feel is necessary to be collected. Our team can always walk you through what the benefits and costs are to changing the standard data collection we do.

Q9: Is this something my users really want or need?

A9: Though the audience does not “see” Parse.ly being used, using an analytics platform that allows an entire company to understand their readers helps media and content publishers reach their goals by combining editorial insights with data. When used as part of an overall strategy, this can lead to reader growth, improved business objectives, and new revenue streams.

Another example of a third-party software that operates “behind the scenes” but has a huge eventual impact on users is New Relic. Users don’t realize New Relic is running on sites, but because it is running, end-user web performance is being measured/monitored. New Relic ultimately has to collect a lot of the same kind of data that Parse.ly does, but they use it toward a very different end. Its dashboards help publishers speed up their sites in a quantitative way.

By running Parse.ly on their sites, publishers are measuring the impact of their content in a reliable way, and this helps them improve their editorial work, promote their stories in all the right places, and more. Publishers should not be afraid of using vendor tools to solve well-understood problems on their websites; instead, they should just make sure they use well-regarded vendors that have strong stances on privacy, so that their end users are treated with respect.