Posts Tagged ‘Flipboard’

newsroom

I’m waiting. Still waiting, that is, for a new type of news product that meets my needs.

It’ll be one that makes the best use of my time, which signposts important material, riddles out the irrelevant and delivers the unexpected.

I’d like some contrarian content in the mix, something that challenges my world view, jolts me from my perch of certainty and make me re-evaluate my position.

By necessity I’m going to have to give up a lot of information about myself and my interests to get what I want. And I’m willing to do that if it delivers the relevance I crave.

I’m happy to enter into a relationship where what I share creates a better experience for me and a better business proposition for my news provider.

I want them to come to know me better, to change and develop their offering as our engagement deepens.

I’m unique, of course, just like you. And what you want and what I want isn’t going to be the same.

The successful news provider of the future is going to have to pander to each and every one of us, to manage millions of nuanced relationships and to cope with requirements in a continual state of flux. Pushing the same stuff at everyone simply isn’t going to cut it.

We’ve transitioned away from a world of time-specific TV news broadcasts and individuals’ favored newspapers and magazines. The virtual doorstep is piled high with content and no matter how much you wade through there’s always more to take its place.

It’s all very well for author Clay Shirky to dismiss the idea of information overload as “filter failure” – even though he’s correct in his observation. Without effective filters consuming news is a Sisyphean task.

So where are the tools that let me, the person who knows me best, define what I want or, perhaps more usefully, what I know I don’t want?

Up to now, Zite has come closest to resolving the filtering problem and its recent acquisition by Flipboard’s Mike McCue makes for a doubly exciting prospect.

As well as delivering stories from a wider range of sources than I would have reached by my own efforts, Zite does a pretty good job of aggregating content by topic headings.

I say pretty good, because the oh-so-clever algorithm regularly comes unstuck and delivers items about garden gates into my Bill Gates aggregation pot.

Marking stories with indications of approval or disapproval is a good step too, especially if the feedback assists in the selection or rejection of future pieces.

That said, the thumbs up, thumbs down, notifications can seem insensitive. Somehow it doesn’t feel right to give a thumbs-up to an article about Auschwitz or a disaster or an atrocity. And what does it signify anyway – that you enjoyed reading it, that it was insightful, or that you agreed with its conclusions?

At least Zite is soliciting feedback, even if it’s pretty basic. Offering consumers a chance to give reactions is laudable and much as I’d like to have something more sophisticated I concede that it’s likely to be a minority sport for the foreseeable future.

I like, too, that Zite allows me to indicate that my news preferences skew towards certain publications and individual journalists – more from these, less from others. It lets me hone the organizations and people I want my content to come from.

The danger with this kind of filtering is that it ends up reinforcing existing prejudices, you only hear what you want to hear and that’s when the serendipity engine needs to kick in. Whether it’s based on the zeitgeist of most read, most watched, most shared material or a counter-culture of contrarian opinion there needs to be some wild card content in the mix.

Another of my requirements has taken root in Cir.ca – the ability to track a story by flagging an interest in it.

Cir.ca stories come with a “follow” button and they have identified this as one of their key metrics. When a reader follows a storyline it tells them the person has more than a passing interest; if there’s something new to learn, they want to know.

Capturing “follows” lets Cir.ca target notifications to those who actively want to keep abreast of developments while avoiding those with only a passing interest.

As it states in its blog, push notifications are nearing saturation and these types of update have become both a blessing and a curse.

“Our solution is to put the choice in your hands and allow you to decide what’s important enough to push. You could say we have two main goals: to inform and to respect your time while doing it.”

I’d like Cir.ca to take this process further, to allow me to fine tune my “follows” to take account of the waxing and waning of my interest.

There are times when news is breaking that I want every detail to be passed on as soon as it emerges. There are others when I want only the most significant developments to be pushed through – a development that would require the story’s intro to be recast. And there times when I want a longer term notification, an update on a story that was big news but has since gone off the boil: Haiti’s earthquake four years on, for instance.

No single news provider is going to be able to accommodate all these needs. Businesses are going to have to figure out how to work with rivals to synthesize content and share the proceeds.

It’s why the coming together of Flipboard and Zite is one of the best and most exciting developments of recent times.

More than two million magazines have been created since Flipboard’s inception in January 2010. It offers both abundance and niche, a pro-am aggregation mix, and packaging that attractively reformats itself as new content rolls in.

With Zite it gets expertise in personalization and recommendations, meaning better and easier content discovery.

Facebook hasn’t been standing still while this unfolds. It recently launched a mobile app called Paper in the US, which takes a leaf from Flipboard’s book and recrafts users’ news feeds into something more elegant and magazine-like.

The winner will be the one that can build the deepest relationship with its readers and viewers while meeting the needs of the individual as well as the masses.

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taptuOld media companies still haven’t grasped that they’re going to have to forge new alliances and collaborate with once bitter rivals if they’re to survive and thrive.

Newspapers and broadcasters have always operated as walled gardens and the model has served them so well that some have come to think they have a right to exist, or that brand loyalty will see them through, or that an iPhone or iPad app will pull the fat from the fire.

   Technology is taking us into the media equivalent of fantasy football where readers can pick and choose their favourite columnists and commentators, mix and match the organizations that serve them, and all while letting their social networks do the heavy lifting by filtering the tide of new information.

In this world aggregators like Taptu, Flipboard Pulse and Zite take different approaches but they all have one thing in common, they break the boundaries that organizations put up between their content and their competitors.

Taptu talks about DJ-ing the news and mixing streams to curate them exactly as you want, by organization, or topic, or special interest.

For those who don’t want to invest the time or effort in doing this then the social graph that connects them with what friends and peers are reading, or watching, or finding interesting, is less taxing.

Is it too fanciful to think that ‘old media’ moguls might join forces to aggregate their own content on a shared platform rather than relying on third parties to do the job?  Perhaps it is, but as things stand they’re losing out.

Frederic Filoux makes the point that they’re not getting audience data from those third parties and it’s the rich learning mined from understanding new patterns of consumption that will be the foundation of future advertising models.

Getting media rivals to collaborate would be problematic, for sure.  Getting agreement on a format and ways to share and monetize material would be a Herculean task, no question. But not to even try would be foolhardy.

Flipboard has just picked up another $50m in venture capital funding; it’s lean (32 employees) it’s nimble, it’s single-minded and it’s tech savvy.

Against that, media businesses may harbor deep rivalries, but they also have rich content at local, national and international level and the potential to package their material in new ways that would better serve the audience and themselves if they could find a way to collaborate.

It’s worth remembering that before SMS became a multi-billion pound earner for mobile operators the business was Balkanised to the extent that messages couldn’t be sent to people outside individual networks.

It only took off when the restriction was removed and a business model was instituted that allowed rival operators to charge each other a small fee for passing messages to other networks.

News aggregators are becoming two-a-penny but I’m excited by the newest kid on the block, the Zite iPad mag that claims to get smarter as you use it.

I haven’t had lots of hands-on time but I’ve already found much to like and it holds out bags of promise.

Like Flipboard you can kickstart it with content from your social graph, in my case Twitter, and then access a Top Stories page with a more detailed section index down the right-hand side. For me this included Social media, Technology, iPhone, Journalism and Mobile.

It’s at story level where things start to get really interesting. Now the right-hand side becomes a personalisation column topped by a question: Did you enjoy reading this? And Yes/No buttons for the answer.  (The nomenclature may need adjusting; I don’t enjoy reading about the Holocaust but I do find it useful/valuable/insightful etc).

Below that there are options to get more articles from the site which originated the story, or more stories about elements within the text. In a feature on the future of social AR gaming for instance the metatags offered were Social Gaming, World of Warcraft, Virtual Reality and Dante’s Inferno.

For some this may be a descent into one of the circles of hell, ranking and rating is a chore but over time it’ll save time if you get a better, more relevant service.

The magic in the mix will be the delivery of stuff you didn’t know you were interested in – that you didn’t specifically ask for – which is a bit more difficult.

The brains behind Zite are researchers at British Columbia university’s computational intelligence lab and they’ve stitched together stats and semantics to try to crack that.

I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen so far and I’m already thinking this will supplant my use of paper.li and Flipboard.

It’s also likely to appeal to advertisers who are no longer entranced by overblown CPM metrics that drive the worst kind of click-whoring subject matter.

Now it’s about reaching the right eyeballs, not just any eyeballs, and a magazine that refreshes every half an hour and provides a tailored cut of content for every user will surely become a powerful new player.

The tech world’s relentless race to the next big thing can sometimes make it hard to see the wood for the trees.

But this week has given some tantalising glimpses of the future of news even if the breathless exaggeration that greets each new “app for that” can make them all seem much of a muchness.

The latest entrant to be hyped to the heavens is Flipboard which tech specialist Robert Scoble described as “revolutionary” and others have called “game-changing”.

At first glance it appears to be no more than an elegantly packaged collection of feeds and – for now at least – it’s iPad only so a long way from mainstream.

This is not just a fancy wrapper. It’s underpinned by semantic search company Ellerdale which mines Twitter data in real-time to extract trends and patterns of interest from a vast seam of interactions.

Co-founder of the Ellerdale Project, Arthur van Hoff, talks more about semantics and finding patterns in big data here

Links come alive when the content they point to is re-displayed in familiar magazine-like formats (though questions are already being raised about whether Flipboard is scraping content to which it doesn’t have rights).

Important though that is, it shouldn’t deflect from the fact that social sharing will become an increasingly important distribution route for news organisations and for news discovery.

There are, of course, earlier, less-developed variants:  For some time, Feedera has been delivering a daily email digest of content shared by friends.

It began as an attempt to help people cope with information overload. Peer-group filtering of the significant or relevant brings with it a degree of trust because you know who’s passing it on and who regularly sends the best stuff.

Feedera  gives every story a ranking based on a combination of the number of friends who have tweeted a link – and from popularity metrics gleaned from  services like Digg and Delicious.

Delicious, itself, has recently started a “Browse these bookmarks” beta that brings back full pages rather than simple links and The Twitter Tim.es is another service to jazz up aggregation by pulling in text, images and video.

By extending aggregation to Twitter lists the power of scraping and re-rendering is multiplied many-fold.

It’s as if you can peer over the shoulder of anyone you choose to see what they’re reading, or listening to, or watching.

For instance, by accessing Robert Scoble’s list of people he has deemed The Most Influential in Tech you can see an instant filter of what that group has been signposting, talking about and considers significant.

There are groups of every stripe and if you don’t like the exisiting lists, or you find a gap in the market, then you can always draw up your own.

Reading Twitter streams – even from the smartest people – can be a chore, especially when jumping backwards and forwards to see linked pages.

Flipboard does the legwork and makes for a much nicer reading experience.

As TED speaker Gary Lauder commented: “My mother is not going to read tweets but she will read Flipboard”.

Apollo is another news app for the iPad (price $4.99) and one that claims to be The Future of the Newspaper.

It aims to help readers discover new content and makes personalisation and social recommendation part of the fabric.

Its algorithm, according to Techcrunch, factors in time spent on articles and sources that have been favourited, as well as the familiar “thumbs up, thumbs down” options to like/dislike articles.

The reason I’ve highlighted these services is because they point the way to a different kind of content consumption in which friends and peers bring social context into the discovery of news.

This kind of filtering is especially important in a world of super-abundant news provision where competition for a reader’s time becomes the most precious commodity.

As well as sampling and aggregating multiple sources, the filters and options they give to rank and rate give readers a greater sense of control.

Anything which helps sift quality items from a mountain of mediocrity will ultimately win out.

To that end we need to start thinking about the tools people will want to control and refine their news flow.