I went to News Rewired on Thursday, along with dozens of other journalists and folk concerned in various ways with news production. Some threads that ran through the day for me were discussions of how we publish our data (and allow others to do the same), how we link our stories together with each other and the rest of the web, and how we can help our readers to explore context around our stories.
Combating information overload in the Internet age can be a tricky thing. The reader is often overwhelmed with the plethora of Web sites and news portals, and the publisher has to come up with a way to retain loyal users who will stick to their brand even while they are taken from hyperlink to hyperlink through an endless loop of news stories on a singular topic of interest.
Mashlogic, a tool that allows users to personalize their Web searches and define information on their own terms, promises to change that. The site assures readers that it can bring relief to their “RSS indigestion” woes in the Internet age.
In addition to allowing the user to choose his or her most trusted sources of news on the Web, the consumer version of Mashlogic, which can be downloaded as a plugin for the Firefox or IE browser, permits readers to outline topics of interest in order to adapt Web-surfing to their needs.
“Mashlogic adds a layer of contextual information to casual viewing experience on a Web site,” says John Bryan, vice president of business development.
Users can go to the Mashlogic site and build their own “mashes.” Here, they can customize source feeds, which may include everything from brand names such as the Guardian or the New York Times, to aggregate mixes, which may incorporate celebrity news and sports teams they follow, and content from bloggers and tweeters. Everything from Wikipedia definitions to LinkedIn profiles of people mentioned in articles can be tracked based on a user’s interest. Mashlogic also allows readers to highlight and choose sources and order them based on their priorities. Little wonder then, that Techcrunch is calling it a “Swiss Army Knife for hyperlinks.” Behind the scenes, the tool scans RSS and XML feeds from the chosen sites for “strings of words” in Web pages based on the user’s pre-selected choices.
Internet readers trying to distill information overload on the Web aren’t the only ones who can take advantage of Mashlogic. Companies and news sites that are interested in preserving their brand, retaining readers and generating page views and revenue can utilize the company’s more recent tool, aptly named, “2Stay.”
Here, the publisher takes a few lines of java script and embeds it on a page. When the tool looks for matching terms on a site that has this embedded script, a branded box alerting the reader to relevant articles from the site itself will pop up as the user drags his cursor over specific terms. It gives site owners a way to let users navigate news on their site without having to rely on search engines, which can often turn up irrelevant information from untrusted sources. The technology works on two levels – it looks at direct tags, which would redirect the reader to articles based solely on words or phrases, and also contextually scans tags around a term, yielding associated tags, and hence secondary stories. This not only prompts the user to stay on a site longer, but also directs traffic to more popular – and hence, more profitable – parts of a Web site.
“It keeps people on the site for longer and allows people to navigate around a site. It’s a way of drilling down archival content,” says Bryan. “What’s really cool about it from the publisher’s perspective is that we have the ability to drive people from a low cpm area to a high cpm area.”
When I ask him how this is different from the “most popular” or “most commented” articles that most sites showcase, Bryan reminds me that it’s not a contest, “We don’t see Mashlogic as being a replacement to any of the other tools that you have on your site.”
Nevertheless, he is quick to point out that a lot of such lists are usually buried at the end of an article on conventional Web sites, or that they often take a reader through a maze of related stories, without the option of going back to the original article. The Mashlogic tool, on the other hand, opens up relevant stories in different tabs, aiding the horizontal reading experience, literally.
“What we offer the user is a way of quickly finding the associated article without leaving the page.” The tool is also intuitive in the sense that it recognizes terms that would be of interest to the user, and the longer time one spends on a site, the deeper it starts to reference buried content.
One of the places this technology works best, according to Bryan, is in the case of celebrity news. As if to reinforce this point he shows me how you can follow stories tagged with Indianapolis football star Peyton Manning on the citizen sports site, Bleacher Report. Merely moving the cursor over the quarterback’s name prompts a callout, which gleans Manning stories from all around the site – a list that includes everything from his team’s latest victory to his place on the NFL power rankings.
But could this excess of Peyton Manning news, so characteristic of niche information and fragmented audiences in the online world, carry with it the very real danger of obscuring the more important news items? Would this entice readers to spend too much time on Manning and too little on the health care bill, for instance?
“I’d like to think they’d use it for both,” says Bryan. In the age of democratization of the Web, the user should indeed be able to choose what he reads and where he reads it. And Mashlogic allows him to do this well. If, in fact, a user were interested in healthcare, the technology would allow him to access the leading magazines, sites, blogs, forums and even tweets on the topic, to create a 360-degree view. “Mashlogic does that better than anybody else because we would scour all the sources that you said you trusted or wanted to reference,” Bryan says.
The company’s third product, “To Go” is for the ultimate brand fanatic. The brand can be anything from a preferred site to a favorite sports team or celebrity, or even a topic of interest. Readers would be required to download a button from their chosen sites, which would offer one-click access from anywhere on the Web.
Hence, 2Go is for the reader what 2Stay is for the publisher. “As a user, I have opted in to the have the ability to jump back, never be more than one click away from my favorite site,” explains Bryan.
Sure enough, as we traverse the ESPN site for news, a Bleacher Report-branded callout pops up, with related stories on B/R, ready to take the B/R fan back to his preferred source with one click. Mashlogic is currently in negotiations with about ten companies to install this tool, and according to Bryan, it’s being pretty well received.
Thus, what the three technologies being offered collectively do is adapt a reader’s experience to his preferences while allowing publishers to retain their most loyal users on their sites. “Mashlogic does not affect the way a site works, in any shape or form, the site works just the way it works,” Bryan says, as he closes an annoying popup ad.
The company has developed a pretty savvy e-commerce strategy for revenue generation. Any references to books or music in articles can directly take the user to the Amazon or iTunes site to purchase a specific item. The technology is also cleverly using third party sites to play sample music for the user, before he chooses to buy it. The feature can reference video, audio and text URLs. Hence, an NPR callout can jump the reader straight to a podcast from their broadcasts. Bryan also envisions having the callouts sponsored by advertisers. What would be more apt than having a Clorox callout advising a reader about environmentally-friendly Green Works products as he reads about the H1N1 virus, he reasons.
Too much distraction, perhaps? In an Internet age where readers are already in danger of encountering endlessly tantalizing hyperlinks, one too many sidebars, and interactive rich-media advertising, do they need more? But, on the other hand, don’t you want to be alerted to that contextual piece on Sarah Palin, as you glimpse through an article about her latest gaffe on a news show?
“A lot of the content, which is still very relevant tends to fall off the radar due to breaking news stories; it’s still pretty relevant, it’s just not current,” as Bryan points out. Mashlogic has the potential to combat the low attention span of the Internet age and bring that content to readers’ attention. In addition, it can provide them with the hundred and seventy-sixth article on Jon and Kate that they may have missed. What’s not to love about that?
Elsevier, the Dutch scientific publisher, has announced details of their grandly titled Article of the Future project. Their prototypes, published at http://beta.cell.com, are the result of what Emilie Marcus, Editor in Chief, Cell Press called,
“…a challenge to redesign from scratch how to most effectively structure and present the content of a traditional scientific article in an online environment.”
Several things strike me about the prototypes — and let’s bear in mind that these are prototypes, and so are likely to change based on feedback from users in the scientific community and elsewhere; but also that they are published prototypes, and so by definition are completely open for comment — the most obvious being their remarkable lack of futuristic qualities. Instead, the prototypes resemble an enthusiastic bash at a multimedia-infused online encyclopaedia circa 1997, when multimedia was still a buzzword, or such as you might have found on a CD-ROM magazine cover mounted giveaway around the same time. Continue reading
As part of a group response to the government‘s inquiry into the future of local and regional media, Paul Bradshaw looks at the role of local authorities in regional journalism. Blog comments will be submitted to the inquiry as well as the blog posts.
So. The Committee for Culture, Media and Sport want responses on “The appropriateness and effectiveness of print and electronic publishing initiatives undertaken directly by public sector bodies at the local level”
The question of what public sector bodies should be allowed to publish, how that affects local journalism, the local economy, and local democracy, is one of the most difficult to resolve – not least because it involves so many interconnected elements.
The first problem is that any discussion runs the risk of conflating a number of separate but interlinked elements:
- local councils and local democracy are not the same thing;
- local newspapers and local journalism are also two different things.
Whatever model emerges must recognise that papers are not the only places where public discussion takes place, and print journalists are not the only people holding power to account.