Recommending news

In his first post for the OJB Wilbert Baan looks at sorting news by systems

The website as we know it is breaking apart. Widgets, API’s and feeds take information to other places outside the domain. In a network culture we like to take our information with us. Your mobile phone, desktop, widgets, websites, digital television, everywhere. For the EN project I am thinking about how we can interact with news as an object. How can we take the article everywhere or use it to make new collections.

The article as a social object

For example on Flickr the picture is the social object. It connects you to your friends. You have a personal contact page where you see the pictures that are relevant to you. All of these photos are probably public information, but it is the selection based on your personal network that makes this page interesting for you.

The same thing happens at Del.icio.us, where you have a page with bookmarks by your friends. Or Last.fm where you can see what music your friends listen to. And Twitter, where your timeline with messages from friends makes the service valuable.

Todays most popular websites are created around us

Almost all of the information on web 2.0 websites is public information. Links on Del.icio.us, artists and songs on Last.fm, personal notes on Twitter. The thing that adds value to the information are the collections we create around ourselves. We are in the center and our virtual friends are around us. Web 2.0 services are about groups of people we trust based on who they are or what they have done.

News 2.0

News is almost never presented around us. It is presented from a perspective where editors define what’s important. This is a very good and trustworthy system. It makes websites and newspapers different and gives direction and personality to a media outlet.

Can news be customized around you? You know what news is important to you, right? Do you trust your friends? Can news presentation be reduced to the article (object) and be arranged by systems?

Most news-websites already sort news on popularity and time. This is already a more systematic arrangement of articles and might have nothing to do with the actual news value. I’m not arguing that we should customize the entire news website, it can also be one page like the ‘friend’-pages on Del.icio.us, Flickr and Twitter.

Your thoughts

Can we ‘amazon’ the news? Would you like to know what your friends read? Or would you be missing the information that is important to you, or the surprises? Some websites – like Google News – are already experimenting with recommendations. Do you like it? And do you know more examples of websites that create a valuable news experience around you?

This is my first post on OJB. I’m an interaction designer for the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant and write a personal blog with my thoughts about new media. My definition of Friends on the web are real life friends mixed with people you admire or are interested in, it’s more a network. I learned the term ‘social object’ from a presentation by Jyri from Jaiku.

7 thoughts on “Recommending news

  1. Stig

    Recommendations on internet is a very interesting topic. Recommendations are coming to us through media in different forms. Either from experts or friends. Web2.0 makes us all experts, and that is a big challenge with recommendations on the web.

    I personally love the idea of web recommendations. I was tired to read film experts advices for instance. They didn’t knew what I like! So I am open to find new experts on the net that speak to me. These experts can be both people or systems. Subscribing (RSS feeds) to news and blogs of my own interest is changing how I update myself on news on the web. Other system like digg and deli.cio.us has not been of my interest so far, and dont think they will. They are more the public opinion aren’t they?

    Like in the real world it all comes down to find right persons/systems to listen to. I have a feeling that we rely too much on our close friends and family. Many read the news papers and watch TV programs and movies as their friends recommend. Internet can give you new friends that perhaps match better and more worth to listen to.

    I don’t see why news should be different from other recommendations, so yes. I would love to have ‘friends’ that help me to find interesting news. As long I respect them and feel I can trust them, they can be a god filter for me. That is what we need in the information age isn’t it?

    Reply
  2. Andy

    “The website as we know it is breaking apart.”

    Maybe the more positive spin – and the more pro-active way to see this is the website as we know it is spreading its roots.

    Reply
  3. wilbertbaan Post author

    @Stig interesting thoughts, I also think we do listen to the advice (recommendations) of our friends (network) in the real world.

    I think you hit the right spot about recommendation systems. We like what it does, but most people don’t feel the need to join it or make it better. Most people don’t edit Wikipedia pages or vote or submit items to Digg. They just look at the results.

    Recommendations only work when it happens by magic, or automatically. Like how Google changes the index based on what position the links are that users click. Everyone is making Google better, but you don’t have to do anything for it except using it.

    I want my news – partly – personalized, but I don’t know if it is worth going through the hassle of creating an account.

    @Andy you’re right we should keep it positive. In something else I wrote later this morning I had already updated the sentence.

    “The web is fragmenting, or maybe even better the web is everywhere. On your mobile phone, television, widgets, feeds, website, and more.”

    Reply
  4. Alex Lockwood

    Hi there. As (former) managing editor for Creative Choices we had to meet the challenge of building a single site that would be relevant for everyone in, or wanting to get into, the creative industries. That was from learners to leaders, from artists to advertising executives. A bit of a mix, and we met the challenge by designing the interaction so that the user ‘flavoured’ the site, e.g. “I’m a leader in advertising” and the priority content they received was about leadership AND advertising, followed by leadership OR advertising, followed by the rest of the content. So, self-recommendation, but a site with the philosophy of a personalised news and services experience that could extend into the flavouring of one user helping influence the flavouring of another.

    I’m pretty sure we were not the first to do this (although we had enough problems to feel like it was the first!). A lot of financial information sites already do this, because of the regulations around who can receive what information based on their status and location. And I think that the new model of hybrid journalism (which I write about here that is theorized by Mark Deuze and others (see the journal Journalism Practice) is a form of the recommendatory news experience that you’re talking about.

    However, talking about this with my journalism students in our social media class yesterday, they, as students, consumers of news and producers (or ‘produsers’ as Deuze would call them) of their own blogs and magazines (The Music Magazine for example, and this Burnley football blog) were adamant that they wanted to read news that had been edited and selected by professional journalists, by editors, not the masses, not even their networks if their networks are not ‘newswork’ professionals.

    So I agree with what you are saying, and believe that Twitter in some way is meeting that demand for recommended news events, and I think there will be many failed attempts at getting the sense of a contextualised and recommended news experience right, before we see how news will evolve online, Good thing of course is that you can fail quickly, and try again.

    Alex

    Reply
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