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New Research from City University London Shows Growth of Personalised News

Personalised news services grow in UK and US, but reader reluctance to customise news websites leads to much faster growth in automatic, passive personalisation news features
by Hollie Jenkins

Following the launch late last month of news website Trove by the Washington Post, which allows users to input preferences in order to determine which news articles are displayed to them, the media industry has shown renewed interest in ‘personalised news’ services.

New research from City University London reveals that the use of personalisation features has been growing at major news website in the UK and US. However, passive news personalisation ― which allows news websites to filter and recommend articles based on user browsing behaviour ― is outstripping active user customisation by a factor of three.

The research, conducted by Senior Lecturer Neil Thurman over two years, found that while active personalisation ― such as ‘Homepage Customisation’ by users ― grew by 20 percent, passive personalisation grew much faster, by 60 percent over the same time period.

The BBC News Interactive’s Editor Steve Herrmann, one of the 12* senior editors interviewed for the study, told Thurman the “time and effort to personalise something” would put off all but a “relatively small number of people”.

Herrmann’s view was confirmed by the quantitative analysis of news websites in the US and UK, which shows how complex ‘My Pages’ ― which allow readers to create whole personalised pages of news ― have failed to gain traction in the market. Over the course of the research WashingtonPost.com, theSun.co.uk, NYTimes.com, and Telegraph.co.uk all stopped marketing ‘My Page’ services.

As well as reader aversion to choice-making, change, and excessive complexity, the research suggested that editors thought readers were unable to accurately predict their news preferences. The former editor of FT.com James Montgomery said: “people think they want it, but perhaps don’t know themselves as well as they think they do”.

Neil Thurman said: “Although some are saying that personalised news sites are ‘all the rage’, this research is a warning to new sites like Trove, that readers are reluctant to take on the role of editorial selection, and still enjoy serendipitous discovery.

Trove’s ‘Editor’s Picks’ ― a full third of their homepage ― and the passive ‘social personalisation’ that they’ve built in will help, but Trove may well struggle against readers’ habitual patterns of passivity and the fast-changing and unpredictable nature of news preferences.”

A copy of the research paper can be found here: http://www.city.ac.uk/arts/journalism/neil-thurman-publications

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.