News content: survival of the fittest

Enrique Dans
Jun 10, 2015 · 3 min read

At the opening session of the WWDC 2015 on Monday, Apple announced the launch of News, a news reading app that will see the early retirement of its disappointing predecessor, Newsstand, leading the company into what is undoubtedly one of the most interesting battles taking place on the tech scene at the moment: news consumption. The prestigious Nieman Lab describes Apple’s move as its most important in many years in relation to the media.

Three of the leading tech companies of our times, Google, Facebook, and Apple have each readied their respective news content platforms: Google Play Kiosk, Facebook Instant Articles, and Apple News. This face off will probably prove more interesting in terms of adoption than the publications available on each: none of the platforms has an exclusive or conditions on the number of articles per day, and advertising is based on standard industry deals.

From a tech perspective, what we are seeing here is an evolutionary process: Google’s product is an advanced version of what was once Google Currents, while Facebook’s is clearly a development of Paper, while Apple’s as said, is an improvement on Newsstand. But for the media, this is a completely new development: they have control over the information they generate in their pages — just about everything not on the page was about attracting traffic rather than making money — and they now face growing chaos from different channels, each with their respective formats and requirements. These are very open requirements, but that allow for everything, from a minimal adaptation level equivalent to what an RSS feed would generate (raw content stripped of its original format), to sophisticated, visually attractive formats that are potentially functional, along with large dollops of eye candy.

I don’t agree with the majority of initial analyses about Apple’s product, which see it as a kind of Flipboard. I see Flipboard as a format container, able to show an image and a snippet of text, but that takes the reader to the source publication if he or she wants to read more and makes the click. But in Apple News, the reader consumes the content in the app, and so the traffic doesn’t leave it, and what’s more, it offers formats that make reading a more pleasurable experience (or in the case of Facebook Instant Articles, much faster download times that make for a better user experience).

Basically, we can expect to see Flipboard in our traffic statistics — in my case it tends to be among the top ten — but I doubt that this will happen with these kinds of tools, which we could consider more as destination sites that users visit not just to read in an agreeable format, but also to subject themselves to the whims of the content recommendation algorithms. These are tools that, in the case of Google and Facebook, incorporate publications own traffic measurement for each article. Whereas Apple says nothing about measuring traffic, saying that the data on its platform will not be shared with third parties, in line with its recently published privacy policy.

We are entering an interesting period that might be called the social consumption of news. This is a transition that has been underway for some time: the social network aspect is decreasing in favor of one more oriented toward the consumption of content, which requires constant feeding by information generators. For the media, this means having a presence in all media. The new channels are the equivalent of the newsstands of old, a place where one “has to be”, and preferably in the best spot. We will see struggles to take advantage of these formats, fights over recommendation algorithms and discovery of content, along with forward-looking media prepared to bet everything on the new, while others will take a wait and see approach before joining the fray. But in general, I would say that this is probably not a bad time to be in the content industry.

One thing that is clear: the masthead will lose its significance, and content will take precedence. We will no longer “read the paper”, but instead consume individual items of news based on how the algorithm we’re using decides. For some in the industry, this is a terrifying, Darwinian, prospect. For others, there are rich pickings…


(En español, aquí)

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

Enrique Dans

Written by

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at enriquedans.com

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

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