Julius Duncan's Blog

Brands for a social age

News, this time it’s personal

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been test-driving Summify. It’s a social media news reader that provides you with a summary of those stories that are most highly read, and shared, by your social network.

So far I’m impressed. There has been a tendency towards Mashable and Techcrunch articles, but it’s also thrown up some neat new stories and sources that I might have missed in the constant ‘flow’ on Tweetdeck.

Coming back from the Easter break on Tuesday I logged onto URL shortening service bit.ly, to see their very similar news app News.me being plugged. Again an application to let your Twitter network, and in News.me’s case other people’s network, help filter and find news that is of greatest relevance to you.

Is this the future of news? I believe it is. Why should we any longer only digest what a sub-editor and section-editor on one of our national newspapers believes we most want to see? The future of news is personal, dynamic, and tailored to each of us, tailored by the power of the semantic web.

This personalisation is happening across multiple platforms. The BBC remains my favoured news gathering source, but I hardly watch news bulletins at scheduled times any longer, and I used to almost daily. Why? Well I’ve likely already seen most of the content on line, stories of interest have been brought to my attention by my social network, and if I do watch a bulletin I’m likely to do so on I-Player or Virgin Plus.

All of these factors add up to a huge challenge for traditional news franchises i.e. the owners of the classic print and broadcast news brands. But hey, we’ve known that for years.

One publisher that keeps itself at the forefront of thinking in this area is The New York Times, through its R&D Lab. The Lab (which developed the News.me application in collaboration with bit.ly) is a JV with the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. Its self proclaimed aim is to, ‘attempt to figure out how quality journalism can survive and thrive in the Internet age’.

In a fascinating post from the R&D Lab’s Megan Garber she gives an insight into Project Cascade, a new tool the Lab has developed with UCLA professor Mark Hansen ‘to track the life of our stories once they leave the newsroom’s confines and go out into the world’. It’s powerful stuff, attempting to visualize across multiple axes the flow of content online, who moves it, in what way, and what nuances are added as it proliferates.

At the end of the post they insist that from The NYT perspective it ‘won’t necessarily dictate, or even affect editorial decisions’. Rather it could ‘affect the packaging of stories and the way the Times presents them online.’

If you ask me that’s a missed opportunity. If this tool can genuinely mine, and surface, powerful insights into what makes content work well in the online eco-system, then hell yes, base your editorial decisions on it.

If you do there is a greater chance that your content will be ranked and selected to appear in the personalised news vehicles that will increasingly make the ‘editorial decisions’ for individuals. Do that successfully and the NYT might just persuade more people to pay for full access beyond its recently introduced pay-wall.

Taking a step back from the intricacies of the traditional news business’ struggle with the open web, what is at the heart of this, is value.

As a publisher, brand publisher or individual publisher, your ability to create content that has value for your audiences is what will decide your success or failure. Happy creating.

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