How our experiment is changing the look of personalised news

Jono Milnes
Nov 21 · 4 min read

Our experiment provides an easy link between the app homepage and the topics you follow, highlighting when new stories are published. If you’re an FT subscriber, you can turn it on, try it out and help us by providing feedback.

A few weeks ago our team was asked to put myFT feed’s topic view on the app. When you switch on our experiment, you’ll see we’ve done something quite different instead.

Say what?!

We knew the myFT feed on the app was less engaging than its desktop equivalent, and lacked a number of features. Surely the logical way to improve it would be to add those missing features?

Not so simple.

While the myFT feed has served us well, it has considerably less engagement power than its myFT siblings the Digest emails and Instant Alerts. Also, while lots of subscribers have used it, they don’t do so regularly. More than 50% of myFT feed users only visit it once in 90 days — that’s much less often than they visit the homepage or even section pages.

The current myFT feed on the app — a list of stories from topics you follow

Room for improvement

Subscribers had already shared some pain points with their current myFT feed experience:

  • Articles should be grouped more clearly by topic (app): ‘It’s confusing… Just list of articles under different headers.’

We used this feedback, plus relevant analysis of myFT features, to stimulate a couple of workshops, coming up with ideas to transform the feed into something relevant, addictive and essential to our subscribers.

Around 30 ideas were generated (some wilder than others) and clear themes emerged:

  • Always provide fresh and relevant articles
    How might we give our subscribers the confidence that there is always something new for them each time they visit the FT?
Popular ideas from our workshops

We deliberated on which of the 30 should be put through to bootcamp and thrown in front of the judges: our subscribers. In the end there were 3:

  • The current feed, but better
    Consolidating the things people liked from both the topic view and timeline view into one new feed that accommodates article recommendations as well as stories from followed topics

We were confident about the first 2 and the 3rd was a wild card for good measure.

Plot Twist

Of the 3 ideas, each interrogated Lord Sugar-style by 16 subscribers, the wild card came out top!

Three rounds of user testing helped us transform a format rooted in social media into something useful and relevant.

Visually, it borrows from Instagram, Snapchat and Google Photos, using circles to represent topics. Their compact nature allows its promotion to the top of the homepage, a convenience well liked in testing.

Functionally, it gives subscribers the topic level view they were craving, and returns the shortcutting functionality some people missed from earlier iterations of myFT.

‘myFT on the homepage’ in action

In testing, people have consistently said it feels intuitive. One subscriber said they would ‘flick through’ the circles first before scanning the front page, while another said it should completely replace the current feed.

All this has lead us to releasing our experiment — a simple but useful feature that only scratches the surface of what it could be. Through it, we will learn if others find it useful too, and what to do next.

How to take part

  • Open the FT app

Let us know your thoughts either through the survey you’ll stumble across when using it, or however else you prefer.

Team: Rob Squires, Ben Barnett, Anna Lisinski, Thurston Tye, Max Bladen-Clark, Shirin Jessani, Fraser Whitfield and myself, with help from the Apps team in Customer Products

FT Product & Technology

A blog by the Financial Times Product & Technology department.

Jono Milnes

Written by

Product Designer @ Financial Times

FT Product & Technology

A blog by the Financial Times Product & Technology department.

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