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Guest Column: Personalisation of news content is the need of the hour

19-November-2013
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Guest Column: Personalisation of news content is the need of the hour

The online world is faced with an abundance of information. As a result, the demand for relevant content is increasing. Online users may already know about news sites for specific reasons, either due to its particular location or subject they are most interested in, or even just due to the brand value. But personalisation does help a local or niche site to further appeal to the reader, or by larger news sites.

Earlier, personalisation was hard to do at a scale. Mobile phones, which have become the most personal device, have enhanced opportunities for personalisation and also triggered higher site registrations. In fact, delivery of more relevant content on mobile devices is becoming much easier.

Media is becoming a much more social and people are increasingly interested in exploring the editorial position being taken by media organisations on important issues of the day. The moot question, however, is how large the personalised content should be, particularly when one looks at personalisation geographically. People’s interest in local news is gradually increasing as these provide an opportunity to them to give vent to their opinion on local news agenda, share the information and discuss that information with others. People want to be brought up to date with all the things that people in their neighbourhood and their city will know about, so that they can play a part in those conversations.

Personalisation of technology also provides a balancing act between the role of technology and journalists. One way to differentiate between types of personalisation is by looking at how much involvement is necessary on part of the reader in building their own experience. Research into the field of personalisation in news has found that passive personalisation appears to be on the rise. Many news apps are available, whereby just taking a latitude and longitude of the user or user’s house news stories that are breaking and happening around that location can be displayed on mobile devices.

An interesting example is of a local news site network in Italy, called City News, allowing users to create a personalised homepage earlier this year. This was based on certain choices made by users in terms of areas of interest, be it location, subjects or people.

With social media platforms such as Twitter or Facebook any user can effectively have his own personalised homepage of content available. This only proves that the social discovery of content is on the rise, and it probably also throws a great challenge to media organisations as to how much of a role there is to play for personalisation on a news website.

Therefore, news sites should look at what they can do to stand out in this field and focus on offering quality content service. In most cases news sites can’t compete with Twitter in terms of serving up great content from many sources, but they can do something else – provide great writing, analysis, comments, a tone that connects, and they can do a much better job of recommending other relevant material.

There are many who find Facebook intimidating, some find Twitter too distracting to use on a regular basis, and, therefore, there is a great opportunity for personalisation of sites to deliver better information to users. Whether one uses Google Search from Google.co.in or Google.com, whether one is in India or anywhere else, one can get the same result depending on the search term. Search on Google has become personalised as Google’s algorithm takes into account where the user is and his previous searches in order to return a different set of search results.

Similarly, on mobile platforms, the opportunity and potential impact of a personalised news service is also equally significant. One argument is that the smaller screen effectively demands more stripped-back content delivery, which clearly caters to a user’s needs and interests. For example, the Circs news app allows users to track stories that they are interested in and receive updates. However, the challenge for media organisations is to offer personalised news services to their users that does not limit the range of views and content the users have access to.

People’s taste in music or movies tends to be fairly static over time and fairly predictable, hence one can look at what people’s friends are looking at, or other people who have listened to the same album or watched the same movie have been listening to. That’s a fairly good predictor of what one might like. But news is so dynamic that it is very difficult to predict, partly because news changes so fast; besides, what we are interested in changes too.

In an increasingly crowded news marketplace, opportunities to achieve engagement through personalisation are wide-ranging. Hence, it is very important to use the technology to make sure users are seeing more of the kind of content that they are interested in, but at the same time it needs to maintain an element of serendipity and discovery within the apps or within the website so that users find content that they didn’t expect to find which is interesting.

The author is Editor-in-Chief, Newzstreet and former Editor of Aaj Tak, Star Interactive and Zee News. 

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