Nothing is more nebulous than trying to predict the future of the media.
That has been a recurring theme in these blog posts since I began doing them about 17 months ago. Still, it is interesting to see where one concept is now, where it has been, and where it may head.
The concept is personalization.
In 1994 I wrote a book called, The Age of Multimedia and Turbonews, trying to forecast where the communication media were headed. Some of the predictions then never came true, while others that weren’t even visualized, are now reality.
Facebook, for example. Youtube, for another.
Still, there was one idea rolling around then that seems to be making a comeback. Citing from the above 17-year-old book:
“One of the products under development at the (MIT) Media Lab … is an electronic newspaper called Newspace, which could join the worlds of mass media and personal computing. Newspace would offer a broadsheet-sized electronic news presentation to the reader, complete with state-of-the-art graphics and human interaction. Much of the product would be built around individual users’ habits, interests, tastes, hobbies, and lifestyles. “
This was before the age of online newspapers obviously, and those products have underdone several evolutions trying to get to the stage that Newsok.com is now. But it’s the personalization aspect – or the so-called Daily Me aspect – that is the focus here.
Trove and Livestand
The current March/April issue of the magazine, News & Tech, features an article headlined, “Personalization making 2011 resurgence.” The article, written by editor chuck Moozakis, notes that the concept seems to have finally gotten some traction.
Moozakis focuses on Trove, a news aggregation service that will let users build their own news site from more than 10,000 news sources, and Livestand, a tablet service that funnels content to consumers based on their interests.
Trove is the brainchild of The Washington Post, which launched it in March on the Web. Livestand comes from our friends at Yahoo.
An open letter from Post CEO Donald E. Graham on Facebook explains what Trove is all about:
Reflects User Choices
“Trove harnesses smart, flexible technology that learns from the choices you make. Some have called it ‘Pandora for news,’ and the serendipity in its suggestions, pulled from around 10,000 sources, makes Trove a powerful tool for information discovery.”
Essentially, Trove users are meant to have the ability to develop their own information channels. They can then utilize those channels to follow anything, anyone, or any place that interests them. Trove uses Facebook Connect to deliver a range of possible channels to users, based on their individual interests.
A “Social Experience”
Says Graham, “Trove is … a social experience; you can share your channels with your friends, engage with fellow site users using the conversation boards featured on every channel, and interact with Trove on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.”
And, since the world is moving to mobile devices, you can take Trove with you on your Android, iPhone, or BlackBerry. An iPad app is on the near horizon.
Trove and Livestand follow, by just a couple months, the launch of Ongo. This service is backed by a consortium including The Post, USA Today, and The New York Times. It is a paid service that lets subscribers select the content they want to read on their mobile devices or computer screens.
600 Daily Stories
The content comes from more than 600 top news stories daily from the above news organizations plus the Associated Press, Reuters, and Financial Times. It costs subscribers about $7 per month.
Almost two decades past the MIT Media Lab experiment in 1994, personalized news channels started making a comeback with MediaNews in 2008. This company sent up a trial balloon then in the form of an “individuated newspaper,” called I-News, which was tested in Los Angeles and Denver before being put back on the shelf.
Will the trend toward personalized publishing continue?
How can it not? We are all tailoring the Web to our individual, personal needs everyday. The direction such personalization will go, however, is open to question.
“It’s still a moving target,” says media analyst Peter Vandevanter. He sees personalized media following two different – but parallel – paths:
- Initiatives such as Trove that depend on keywords and algorithmic searching.
- So-called crowdsourcing services, of which Facebook is a prime example. Here, users read what their friends and trusted sources recommend.
Back to the Caves
I have always found it ironic that the Web is a culture of openness where anyone can find anything they want, yet so many of us only scratch the surface by going for narrow kinds of information that interest us personally.
What could be a tool for a gigantic common pool of information is, in a way, a trail that leads each of us back to our individual caves to read the paintings on the wall.
My first newspaper job was right here with The Oklahoman (then The Daily Oklahoman) back around 1970. It was a transition time for the industry, which was going from “hot-type” to the “offset” printing process.
Because of that, reporters and editors were saying goodbye to their manual typewriters as technology had ushered in electric typewriters in the form of IBM Selectrics. These machines literally started the ball rolling in connecting the newsroom to the offset printing process.
The magic typing ball
These Selectrics replaced the individual striking keys with the typing ball that was calibrated to put the right letter on the page as you hit the corresponding key. You could change typefaces simply by changing the typing ball, and you could code the copy to be read automatically by an optical character reader (OCR) machine.
Someone would simply feed the typed sheets into the OCR machine, and out would come the typeset copy, formatted for your newspaper and ready to be pasted onto the newspaper page that would be photographed and magically converted to a thin metal plate. This was placed like a saddle on the printing press. The press was started and voila! A newspaper would emerge on the other end.
What’s this? Change?
This was the first significant change to occur in the way newspapers were produced since the early 19th Century, and it was the first stage of putting composing-room functions into newsroom hands. It also produced a great deal of angst among reporters. Ironically, those professionals who are always writing about changes in society have traditionally been some of the most resistant to change in the way they do their job.
For them, technology in the newsroom means change, and change means a break with tradition, and the traditions of journalism are as endearing to reporters as motherhood, baseball, and apple pie.
I clearly recall reporters steadfastly refusing to give up their Royal manuals, even as they were ordered by editors to replace them with the new Selectrics. In some cases, they would actually hide those relics, sneak off and use them instead of the shiny new machines that were placed on their
desks. It took more than a year for some die-hards to realize copy produced on manuals wouldn’t work in the new technological system.
Once they got used to the Selectrics, however, they realized this new delivery system of news was easier (for the most part), let them have later deadlines (which all reporters crave) and – most importantly – this technology did not affect content.
The reality of change
This is the new reality for journalists today, as we have long-since crossed the threshold of computers replacing electric typewriters and Web editions of newspapers challenging the print product for supremacy with readers.
And it doesn’t stop there as I recently heard a Dallas editor talking about his newspaper past Web-first to Twitter-first.
The new delivery system of Web-first media does not have to affect news content, and it is that content that is so important to society.
The new generation of journalists who have come into the newspaper and television news industry over the past decade now take this as a given: the Web is here to stay, and more people are getting their information from it than from traditional newspapers or even 30-minute TV newscasts.
That said, newspapers and television news have to play first to the Web and then to their traditional delivery systems of printed papers and nightly newscasts. The change is occurring at a more rapid pace with newspapers than TV, although the latter industry is catching on fast to the new reality.
OK, I get it now
While this change is – at times – heartbreaking for those professionals who have always considered themselves first to be newspaper journalists or television journalists rather than information providers, it is now becoming second nature to most in the business.
Perhaps it is a good thing, as well, because journalists can now focus squarely on content. That doesn’t mean they all do, however, as many are getting distracted by the lights, colors, and bells of software applications.
All journalists, however, realize the means of producing and delivering that content will continue to evolve. The traditions of producing the news are about as trustworthy for journalists as the shifting sands on a beach.
The old grains of sand will be replaced by new ones tomorrow. Yet the beach itself remains and continues to draw customers.