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Aggregation key to personalized tablet news

September 30, 2011

By Michael Gulledge
Missouri State University

Top news aggregation developers discussed development and usage of their products at the “Tablet/Mobile Strategies and Visions for News Organizations” workshop.

The workshop, co-sponsored by MPI, the Reynolds Journalism Institute, Digital Publishing Association, and American Society of News Editors, was held Sept. 29-30 in St. Louis.

The session featured the applications Trove, Zite and FLUD, and each panelist demonstrated their application while discussing the thought process behind the development of the application.

Each application provided a different twist on how information is displayed. Trove, an application by The Washington Post and presented by Washington Post Mobile Design Director Joey Marburger, captures different news articles and classifies them for each user.

Other applications presented were FLUD, which was presented by founder Bobby Ghoshal, and Zite, which was presented by Zite CEO Mark Johnson. Zite considers itself a personalized magazine and bases content off of trends on Twitter and other accounts. FLUD gathers content off of things users like and through social networking.

Outside of the initial demonstration of the products, the audience asked questions that were answered by the panel members. One of the first questions was how much initial set-up time users were willing to spend.

Zite’s Johnson said that they found users willing to spend some time, but warned that “you have to minimize the amount of hoops they have to jump through.”

Trove took a different approach to finding content that users liked. They developed a comparison of two articles, and users could choose which they liked better.

“We wanted to try to find a fun way to do set-up,” Marburger said. “We kind of make the app more or less like you’re setting it up all the time.”

An audience member asked what the biggest surprise was for each of the developers.

Marburger said that when they launched on a lot of platforms they weren’t sure how people would use the service on different devices. He says that people do use it across devices and that “some people don’t even know there is a website.”

Johnson was surprised at when users used their site most.

“Our heaviest usage day is on Sunday and the heaviest usage time is in the evenings,” Johnson said. He was also surprised about people’s willingness to give thumbs-up or thumbs-down feedback of the content they’re viewing.

At first, users rate about 25 percent of the articles they viewed, but that falls to about 12 percent after a week, he said.

Ghoshal was surprised at the geographic diversity of the user base.

“About 48 percent of our users are in Europe. A lot of the news that comes in through FLUD is not in English,” Ghoshal said.

The developers were concerned with the new emphasis on paywalls and the impact those paywalls would have on the content the applications can display.

“I would caution a lot of organizations from going behind paywalls,” Johnson said.

Marburger said that the biggest part of reading the news depends on the source.

“I think that people, if something is behind a paywall, then that’s where they’re going to access it,” he said. “If content is siloed off somewhere else then that’s where you’re going to view it.”

FLUD founder Ghoshal pointed out that putting information behind paywalls doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t get out through torrents or other means.

“If you could work out a revenue sharing model with news aggregators then it’s a win-win situation,” Ghoshal said.

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