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?
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.