How our experiment is changing the look of personalised news

Jono Milnes
Nov 21, 2019 · 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.

Our team was tasked with improving the myFT feed experience on the app. A month of discovery has taken us in an unexpected but curious direction and this experiment will help us explore it further.

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.

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.’
  • Switching between ‘topic’ and ‘list’ view is not particularly useful (desktop)
  • The previous version (where you could shortcut to topics you follow) was better: ‘I can’t find the articles I’m interested in anymore. The old version was better’

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?
  • Relevance through context
    Is it useful to promote different articles, or provide a different experience, depending on what a person is doing (eg. commuting)? Or, based around what time of the week it is (eg. the weekend)?
  • Seamless experiences
    How might people move between the feed on their phone on the commute, to their desktop at work, to their tablet at home?
  • Conversation and community
    How could we promote commenting and conversation in the feed?
  • An experience for non-myFT users
    How might we create a relevant and useful experience for those who are less inclined to customise themselves?

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
  • Context based packaging
    Packaging articles in the feed not just by topic, but also by context, like commuting or the weekend
  • Visual feed
    Adapting the ‘stories’ format common in social media to showcase fresh and relevant stories.

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.

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
  • Go to the menu
  • Scroll to ‘Experiments’
  • Switch on ‘myFT on the homepage’

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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