By Alok Verma
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 personalization does help a local or niche site to further appeal to the reader, or by larger news sites.
Earlier, personalization was hard to do at a scale. Mobile phones that have become most personal device to any individual has enhanced opportunities for personalization and also triggered higher site registration. 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 about the editorial position being taken by media organizations on important issues of the day. The moot question, however, is as to how large the personalized content should be, particularly when one looks at personalization geographically. People’s interest in local news is gradually increasing in order to give vent to their opinion on local news agenda, so that they can share information and discuss that information with colleagues and neighbours and friends and family. People actually want to be brought up to date with all the things that people in their neighbourhood and their city will know about, so they can play a part in those conversations.
Personalization technologies are also performing a balancing act between the role of the technology and journalists. One way to differentiate between types of personalization is by looking at how much involvement is necessary on the part of the reader in building their own experience. Research into the field of personalization in news has found that passive personalization appears to be on the up. Many news apps are available where by just taking a latitude and longitude of the user or user’s house, news stories that are breaking and happening around that location will be displayed on mobile devices.
An interesting case study can be found in Italy, where local news site network City News introduced the ability for users to create a personalized homepage earlier this year. This is based on certain choices made by users in terms of areas of interest, be it location, subjects or people, arguably an example of more active personalization.
With the rise of social media means any user of Twitter, Facebook or the like, effectively has his own personalized homepage of content available. This only proves that the social discovery of content is on the rise and probably it also throws a great challenge to media organizations as to how much of a role is there to play for personalization on a news website?
Therefore, news sites should look at what they can do to stand out in this field, and focus on offering a 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, comment, 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 personalization on sites for delivering better information to users. Whether one uses Google search, from Google.co.in or Google.com, whether you’re in India or London one would get the same result depending on one’s search term. Search on Google has become personalized as Google’s algorithm takes into account where you are and your previous searches in order to return a different set of search results to you.
Similarly, on mobile platforms, the opportunity and potential impact of a personalized news service is also equally significant. One argument is that the smaller screen effectively demands more stripped-back content delivery, which clearly caters for a user’s needs and interests. The Circa news app, for example, lets users track stories they are interested in receiving updates about. However, the challenge for media organizations is as how do they offer personalized news services to their users that does not limit the range of views and content users have access to.
People’s taste in music or movies tends to be fairly static over time, fairly predictable, and so 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, and 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 but also what we’re interested in changes.
In an increasingly crowded news marketplace opportunities to achieve engagement through personalization are wide-ranging. Hence, it’s very important to use the technology to make sure users are seeing more of the kind of content that they’re interested in, but it also keeps an element of serendipity and an element of discovery within the apps or within the website, so that users find content that they didn’t expect to find, but is nevertheless interesting, and being surprised and delighted.