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News from City, University of London

Reduced Relevance – the downside of social, mobile news

The increased availability of news on mobile platforms can result in stories that are less relevant to readers' interests.
by Stephanie Schaal

A recent report by two City University London academics, Neil Thurman and Steve Schifferes, has highlighted a problem with the quality and 'personalisation' of news for readers using mobile devices. Thurman and Schifferes surveyed eleven* national news websites in the UK and US over a three and a half year period.

Lead author, Thurman, says "given the modern software platforms that mobile devices offer and their ability to be location-aware, we were expecting news providers' mobile editions and 'apps' to be highly personalised. In fact we found they offered, on average, 13 times fewer forms of personalisation than news providers' full web editions".

The authors suggest this might be a result of the relatively early stage of development of mobile news apps but also because mobile devices-like the iPad-are often used for passive rather than active consumption. "If you like to get your news filtered to your preferences you're better sticking to news providers' main websites", Thurman added.

Between a third and half of adults in the UK and the US now access news on mobile devices.

The authors also found that social filters performed poorly against editors in their choice of stories readers wanted to see. Thurman explained "the Facebook plug-in some news sites have used hasn't done a good job of predicting readers' interests. News moves so quickly that your Facebook 'friends' just can't keep up, and we have fewer overlapping interests with those 'friends' than we think. Professional editors can better predict the stories you'll want to read than the social filters currently available on some news sites".

Although journalists have thus-far retained their gate keeping role, the report's authors do believe that social media is going to be increasingly crucial to the future of news. Professor Schifferes says "our evidence suggests that there still is a gap in the market for effective social news filters, which research projects and commercial companies have not yet filled".

  • The published version, entitled: "The Future of Personalization at News Websites: Lessons from a Longitudinal Study" is available on the Journalism Studies website (subscription required).



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