Smartphones best for breaking news

Posted: December 13, 2010 in BBC, Future, Journalism, Mobile, News, real-time
Tags: , , , ,

Mobile has pulled ahead of the desktop web as the “most important medium” to get breaking news.

That’s one of the main findings from a US survey of 300,000 people across a broad demographic range.

Yes, it was conducted by a mobile app developer, Handmark and, yes, it was questioning people who have bought into a smartphone lifestyle.

But it underlines, once more:

  • the growing importance of mobile for news consumption
  • that mobile and desktop services have different strengths
  • that there’s an opportunity to feed news demands in new and varied ways

Handmark CEO Paul Reddick believes 2011 will see consumers increasingly relying on their mobiles as a primary source of news and information and the survey findings bear that out.

It  assumes, of course, that network capability will keep up with demand for bandwidth and that’s far from certain.

But leaving that aside for now, I’ve long argued that mobile requires a different cut of content to mainstream web coverage and that it should convey the sense of flux and excitement that comes from breaking stories.

News organizations should be offering chronologies of content as well as the traditional, editorially-weighted mix of material.

And the paid-for SMS news alert should be sent to the dustbin of history. At upwards of 12-25p a message it works out as the most expensive bandwidth in the world, especially if you measure it against the amount of data transmitted.

Yet organisations still pump out alerts, many of questionable value, in the knowledge that companies rather than individuals are footing the bill.

If you’ve already paid for “unlimited” bandwidth, or bandwidth capped at “fair use” levels, why on earth would you pay for SMS alerts?

Push notifications do, at least, take cost out of the equation but they need to be used sparingly or the news currency becomes devalued.

And if you have several apps offering push alerts then the distraction can quickly become annoying, especially when they aren’t deemed relevant or important enough to warrant the interruption.

It’s why I believe news organizations need to incorporate time-driven hierarchies into the mainstream of their platforms and make much more of immediacy.

That doesn’t mean throwing away the traditional, editorially-weighted view of the news – that still has value – but it does mean presenting content in a new way that makes a virtue of “nowness” and conveys information in snackable bursts.

Twitter’s already shown itself to be a powerful force for breaking news with its 140-character snippets rewarding repeat visits – there’s always something new to consume – and rapid updates  are a key strength of mobile.

But presenting only one that type of view means important news can swiftly be displaced by less substantial matter.

It’s not a case of speed over importance, one or the other, mobile can and should do both.

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