It felt good. It felt right.
I would lose track of my computer. I’d find it in weird places, buried under stacks of books, under chairs, or creeping toward the appliance garage where the food processor lives.
Alexis Madrigal, Twitter Is Weird—and Other Things Fatherhood Taught Me, The Atlantic.
Madrigal, who recently had a baby, spent two months on break from being a “full-time information consumer,” and deprofessionalized his internet use:
The videogame world has a useful analogy: There people talk about “core” gamers versus other types. Core gamers overwhelmingly come from certain demographics and their behaviors and interests are distinct from the much larger group of people who play games sometimes. They have dedicated gaming hardware and try out lots of games. They care a lot about graphics and don’t mind mastering complex control systems. Casual gamers are different. They like easy-to-play games where the learning curve is not steep. And they don’t spend a ton of time or money on games.
In my normal life, like many other journalists, I am a core Internet user. But in the baby bubble, I became a casual user, just someone looking to read the news and keep up with friends and family.
FJP: The piece has some interesting insights about what the difference between the two is, which news consumption styles are best suited to Twitter, what a phone (versus a laptop) is good enough for and what an intertwined digital-analog life looks like.
In other words, based on your consumption of news, your search patterns, and a deep analysis (semantic, tonality, implied emotions) of your mail and your posts — matched against hundreds of millions of others — Google will be able to suggest a link to the profile of an artist in Harper’s when you dropped in Google News to check on Syria.
Frédéric Filloux, News: Personalized or Serendipitous?, Monday Note.
Filloux interviews Richard Gingras (senior director of news and social products at Google) about how Google is planning to serve content to readers that is both personalized and serendipitous:
According to him, “Today’s news personalization is very unsophisticated. We look at your news reading patterns, we determine that you looked at five stories about the Arab Spring and we deduct you might like articles about Egypt. This is not how it should work. In fact, you might be interested in many other things such as the fall from grace of dictators, generation-driven revolutions, etc. These requires understanding concepts”. And that’s a matter Google is working on, he says. Not only for news, but for products such as Google Now which is the main application of Google’s efforts on predictive search.
How it’ll actually pan out, we don’t know, but there are a couple of questions that come out of this that are worth keeping in mind:
01. How do recommendation engines (currently) work?
Recommendation engines, otherwise known as recommender systems, suggest content based on previous behavior or purchases. Such systems typically use one of two approaches: Collaborative filtering creates a predictive model based on a user’s previous interactions such as products purchased or viewed. Content-based filtering looks at content or item characteristics and suggests content with similar elements. Amazon, Netflix and music services including Pandora and last.fm use recommendation engines.
02. Why preserve serendipity?
Four years ago, Mathew Ingram wrote about the serendipity defense—one of the main arguments for a bundled news package: basically, newspapers let you easily stumble upon fascinating articles that you’d never think to look for by yourself. The advantage that newspapers have over the internet on this is that once you pick one, you can have a good sense of what quality to expect from it. You know the brand, you can let your critical guard down and the whole experience is fun and easy. While the internet might be the ultimate serendipity machine, achieving the same results requires much more: know-how, patience, a critical eye on the trustworthiness of the source, and regular exploration.
03. Why prescribe content?
While the web allows us to find endless amounts content, that content often ends up being finer and finer bits of the candy we love, which encourages us to exist in echo chambers of information-decadence. Those who believe that news services should deliberately prescribe content to help readers diversify the perspectives they are exposed to have yet to find a way to do so that doesn’t feel like an eat-your-vegetables approach. Plus, prescribing content to readers for the benefit of a “balanced” news diet would likely require too many assumptions about value to ever be widely accepted.
FJP: If you’re a proactive news reader, you can create your own diet of publications or people both in and outside your comfort zone and maintain a personalized, serendipitous, diverse set of sources. If you’re not, you’ll rely on recommendation engines to do the work for you. For the creators of those engines, it’s a tricky mix to find the right balance between serendipity and prescription. And unfortunately, many of the concocters of the magic potion are for-profit companies that skew the formula for their own benefit.—Jihii
Instead of seeking an engaged audience — that’s a metric better suited for movies and prime-time TV — we in news should be seeking an informed public, using new tools to make them better informed with greater relevance and more efficiency. Instead of measuring our success by how much more time we can get them to spend with us, we should measure it by how much less time they need to spend with us to reach their own goals.
Jeff Jarvis, Maybe News is Just More Efficient, BuzzMachine.
FJP: Jarvis goes on to discuss a hypothetical news service that accomplishes this task of efficiency by serving the public news that uses a (very) smart algorithm to bring each reader a hyper-personalized news stream. An obvious issue with this is selection bias, and the possibility that one will end up consuming a very narrow slice of the perspective pie (read about the perils of algorithmic curation here). Also see the comments below Jarvis’s article for some interesting points made by readers.
Apparently, the more mobile devices you have, the higher your perceived value of media is. According to BCG’s recent study, Through the Mobile Looking Glass, when you get a second mobile device, there is a 41% increase in perceived media value, a 40% increase when you get a third, and a 30% increase when you get a fourth.
Which makes sense, if you’re spending your days juggling four mobile devices and consuming media on all of them. What could be more important than the information nuggets you’re eating all day long?
Hopefully a lot of things, considering that the nutritional value of all the information we’re consuming could be very low.
The Guardian’s Rolf Dobelli explains:
In the past few decades, the fortunate among us have recognised the hazards of living with an overabundance of food (obesity, diabetes) and have started to change our diets. But most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News is easy to digest. The media feeds us small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don’t really concern our lives and don’t require thinking. That’s why we experience almost no saturation. Unlike reading books and long magazine articles (which require thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, which are bright-coloured candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to information that we faced 20 years ago in regard to food. We are beginning to recognise how toxic news can be.
Dobelli goes on to provide illustrative examples of the following:
Dobelli wants us to go without news. To be clear, he’s not arguing against ALL journalism. He supports investigative journalism, long-form, and books, but for the last four years has entirely removed the consumption of other (shorter) news from his diet. He’s since experienced: “less disruption, less anxiety, deeper thinking, more time, and more insights.”
FJP: Firstly, journalists simply can’t afford that kind of lifestyle and anyone active on a social network can’t avoid it. And great, illuminating, informative, well-reported, well-presented journalism is out there. But if we set aside the details of his argument (over which we could debate at length), Dobelli’s larger point (that our news consumption habits aren’t very healthy), coupled with the fact that we of the mobile generations perceive the value of media so highly, raises the most important question of all for people living in 2013: How can we construct healthy, anxiety-free, informative, enjoyable news diets that help us live better lives and understand the world better? News literacy. Just like we ought to do with food, practice consuming with balance and intention.—Jihii
Twitter elicits a more poisonous information anxiety. It moves so fast that if I’m not continuously checking in, I completely lose track of the conversation — and it’s almost impossible to figure out what happened three hours ago, much less two days ago. I can’t save Twitter for later, and thus there’s always a pressure to check Twitter now. Twitter ends up taking more of my time than I’d like it to, as there’s a constant reason to check it rather than, say, reading a magazine article.
Ezra Klein, The Washington Post. The Problem with Twitter.
Klein is reacting to Nick Beaudrot’s piece about Twitter, which is an account of why he’s not returning to Twitter after giving it up for Lent until he can figure a way to sort the useless from the useful. Beaudrot graphs Twitter content as 10% links to interesting things and 90% faff, snark and debates better suited to blogging.
FJP: Obviously Twitter has its unbeatable pros as well, and Klein does appreciate them. See reader comments on the piece for some organization solutions to his laments, one of which is to build lists. For tips on how to built newsy twitter lists, see our post here.