Here's the future of hyper-personalized news delivery

byJessica Weiss
Feb 18, 2015 in Digital Journalism

Imagine a media outlet that knows exactly what its audience is doing and thinking, what news they want at a precise moment, and exactly how they want to digest that information.

Driving home from work after a long day of meetings? Here’s a podcast of the day’s news items to play catch up. Commuting on a train and in the mood to read? How about a longform story or two for the trip. Running at top speed on the treadmill at the gym? Watch this upbeat video doc.

According to digital media consultant and visiting Niemen Fellow Amy Webb, that’s the future, and news organizations should hop on board. In recent years, news outlets have been focused on responsive design, or delivering news appropriate for various devices, but that doesn’t address the consumer’s needs, Webb said in a recent Nieman Lab piece

“Consumers -- not their devices -- must be the focus of any content strategy in 2015,” she said. 

If that sounds like a radical thing to achieve, consider this: Our mobile devices are already equipped with useful technology, such as an accelerometer, which senses motion and velocity to keep track of the movement and orientation of an electronic device, and a gyroscope, which uses Earth’s gravity to help determine orientation. And many of the apps we already use know our home and work locations. That information can begin to fill in the holes for news outlets looking to learn about their audience to personalize news.

Now, as the news and information ecosystem continues to grow and expand, audience is of major concern to news executives, who are seeing its importance to the future viability of news outlets.

“I think that news organizations are very concerned with financial stability, and audience is a major part of that,” Webb recently told IJNet. “My concept [of consumer-aware, context-aware delivery] has definitely been discussed among news executives, but it requires thinking very differently about distribution. The importance of audience isn’t lost on them.”  

To start, Webb said “algorithmic curation” is a good, low-cost solution for newsrooms--essentially, creating a single story with variants that then get distributed in different forms and possibly with different language, depending on the situation.

How might a single story look and change, she said, if a person is: “standing on line at Starbucks, suddenly angry because of a Facebook post, running on the treadmill at the gym, in a five minute downtime between meetings, paying attention to what lots of people are tweeting or on an evening commute in a car.”

But beyond stopping there, the item the consumer is delivered could also take into account other, even deeper factors, such as whether it’s his or her first time with the topic, the time of day, the amount of time the consumer has available, how fast he/she is moving, and the list goes on.

According to Webb, “predictive modeling” personal assistant Google Now is already doing it. Google pulls data from services such as Google Calendar and Gmail into one place, learning where you live, work and travel, plus your “granular likes and dislikes,” such as the music, sports and TV shows you’re interested in.

“Since the phone knows your behaviors and physical location, Now is able to push hyper-personalized information to you just before you realize you need it,” she said--from weather alerts and traffic conditions, to theater times for the film you’re dying to see.

Google Now recently integrated 40 platforms, such as Airbnb and Ford’s Sync, into their core offerings.

Clearly, most newsrooms don’t have the same resources as Google. But the challenges for newsrooms are far from being insurmountable, Webb said.

“It will take time, money and updated content management systems, but this is a strategy that’s within reach of news organizations,” she said. “It’s a matter of making the decision to focus on audience, then allocating resources to serve them.”

Image courtesy of Flickr user Bent Kure under a Creative Commons license.