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Why a Media Experience Platform Is Crucial for upday’s Success: An Interview With CTO Shyam Sundar

A subsidiary of Axel Springer SE, upday is an innovative news aggregator. Like many media and entertainment companies, upday must grapple with the challenge of publishing myriad images in tandem with new stories. Complicating matters is the fact that most of the images created and owned by third parties might not be in the proper format for publishing. Plus, some images are so massive that they drastically slow down page loads, impacting user experience and raising bandwidth costs. 

upday has resolved those problems since adopting the Cloudinary platform since its inception. I recently posed to CTO Shyam Sundar, a three-year veteran of upday, the questions below on the behind-the-scenes nuances.

upday started in Germany, France, and the U.K. in 2015 as a bundled news app for Samsung’s mobile phones. Since then, we’ve expanded to almost 35 countries in Europe, aggregating news from numerous publishers for iOS devices in addition to Samsung phones and B2B partnerships with automotive manufacturers.

Our latest offering is Jaxon, an Esports app that provides news and calendar information on popular games like Apex Legends, CS:GO, Dota, Fortnite, League of Legends, and Valorant, with many more in the works

Visual media makes news more interesting. No matter the news content—be it sports, cars, politics—adding images and videos to the news content adds a strong audience appeal. To capitalize on that magnetic draw, we invariably attach a captivating image or video to every news card. 

A major challenge is optimization, that is, the imperative process of transforming images for the most compelling user experience on the many devices we support: Samsung flagships, Samsung medium flagships, and iPhones.

By way of explanation, transforming images means editing them dynamically, at scale, and through automation without altering the originals. Simple transformations include resizing, cropping, format changes, and compression. More sophisticated transformations might involve AI and machine-learning algorithms that intelligently crop, resize, add overlays or watermarks, blur, pixelate, apply effects, censor, etc. The goal is to generate the most engaging, highest-quality images in the best format for a positive user experience. 

Doubtless, building, undertaking, and maintaining solutions for transforming images is outside the realm of our expertise. It makes sense to have professionals handle that complex aspect of our operations.

Cloudinary manages media for us end to end, from fetching images to dynamically resizing and optimizing them on the fly. Delivery through a Cloudinary content delivery network, called a CDN, reduces bandwidth.

To give you a more detailed picture: Besides uploading images for articles, our editors also reuse pictures from partners, but the high-resolution ones must be resized, cropped, and compressed before publication.

Plus, we cater to a massive audience of 20 to 30 million every month—people with different phones and form factors—and must deliver dynamically transformed media that meets the requirements of all those devices at scale. Tackling that process is Cloudinary’s major contribution. 

Moreover, Cloudinary resizes and serves videos, which we occasionally leverage as news content. Another secondary use case is Esports-related news served on Jaxon, our new flagship app I mentioned before. Cloudinary also optimizes the images related to all that content.

We want people’s faces to be the focus of many pictures, but accomplishing that requires a lot of cropping and resizing. Cloudinary does all that for us through automation with a technology called face detection, which enables us to publish news content much faster. Manually cropping or resizing the images would be a lot more time consuming.

Separately, a key goal of ours is to provide our audience with an experience of the most accurate news. The process starts with recommendations from Cloudinary’s machine-learning model, after which our editorial team reviews all the pictures before weaving them into the content. 

We have a content management system on which editors write news stories. For images, the editors upload them with the Cloudinary Upload Widget through drag-and-drop to the Cloudinary system within the CMS, where they’re up for editing. Cloudinary then dynamically resizes, crops, and compresses the images, applying other transformations as required before generating URLs for the images. To double-check, the editors preview all the imagery in the CMS before publishing.

Our app design mandates that we deliver news with both text and images. As a yardstick, we measure the overall impact of news stories. 

We have millions of users on various devices with different form factors. We’re dedicated to providing them with a seamless experience so that our editors need not do anything to accommodate end-users’ mobile devices. Instead, the editors just focus on choosing the right pictures and generating the right news content. In other words, a tremendous value-add from Cloudinary is ensuring that everything just works. 

Recently, we launched a pilot phase in a few markets as a precursor to expanding to other countries. And we’re looking into various models with a goal of growing our tech stack to multiple levels in various geographies. 

As we grow, we’ll continue to count on Cloudinary to transform our media assets. Whether B2C or B2B, we’re passionate about providing customers with reliable, traced, and fact-validated news along with high-quality visual media. To that end, we’ve had practical guidance and exceptional help from Cloudinary experts. 

A case in point is that, at Cloudinary’s suggestion, we’ve established a centralized service, which eliminates the need to integrate all our apps with Cloudinary. All those apps have to do is to integrate with our central app, which functions through Cloudinary’s APIs. The result is a focused view of what gets transformed and how that’s done across business units. The bottom line is that we now onboard and integrate new products and apps much faster than before.

That’s a fascinating industry topic. I believe that visual media will grow in the direction of all the technologies you cited. What matters is what people want. They have options and, for many, smartphones are their primary means of consuming information. 

On the other hand, people of different demographics consume content in different ways. Many teenagers get news from TikTok; those in their mid-20s or early 30s tend to prefer Instagram and, of course, YouTube caters to all ages. 

It’s an interesting horizon ahead for the news business because we’ll be able to cover news through more channels. Some people like video because it’s easier to watch footage than read text. The way I see it, all things are possible and have equal opportunities to develop and grow. 

My background is in Computer Science Engineering. I started my career in consulting and have worked on a variety of industry verticals in publishing, travel, and high tech. I see myself as a people person and a strong thought leader who excels in aligning people for the best outcome.

I believe that it’s going to be exciting times ahead as we grow our user base and continue to surpass our achievements.

Cloudinary has been an excellent media experience platform for upday as we continue to grow our business. We consider Cloudinary a key partner for our operations.

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