In a guest post for OJB, Neil Thurman highlights a new research report that suggests the increased availability of news on mobile platforms, and its harnessing of social networks—like Facebook—to power recommendations, comes at a price: stories that are less relevant to readers’ interests than those recommended by editors and found on news providers’ traditional websites.
Given the modern software platforms that mobile devices offer and their ability to be location-aware, when my co-author, Prof Steve Schifferes, and I started work on this report we were expecting news providers’ mobile editions and ‘apps’ to be highly personalizable. In fact we found they offered, on average, 13 times fewer forms of personalization than news providers’ full web editions.
We think this might be a result of the relatively early stage of development of mobile news apps but also because mobile devices—like the iPad—are often used for passive rather than active consumption. We reached the conclusion that if you like to get your news filtered to your preferences you’re better sticking to news providers’ main websites.
We also found that social filters performed poorly against editors in their choice of stories readers wanted to see. Specifically the Facebook plug-in some news sites have used hasn’t done a good job of predicting readers’ interests.
News moves so quickly that your Facebook ‘friends’ just can’t keep up, and we have fewer overlapping interests with those ‘friends’ than we think. Professional editors can still better predict the stories you’ll want to read than the social filters currently available on some news sites.
Although journalists have thus-far retained their gate keeping role, we do believe that social media is going to be increasingly crucial to the future of news. Our evidence suggests that there still is a gap in the market for effective social news filters, which research projects and commercial companies have not yet filled.
Our report surveyed eleven national news websites in the UK and US over a three and a half year period.