The News Feed is perhaps the world’s most sophisticated mirror of its readers’ preferences—and it’s fairly clear that news isn’t one of them. We simply prefer stories that fulfill the very purpose of Facebook’s machine-learning algorithm, to show us a reflection of the person we’d like to be, to make us feel, to make us smile, and, most simply, to remind us of ourselves.
Derek Thompson, The Facebook Effect on the News, The Atlantic.
Thompson uses data from the BuzzFeed Partner Network (a conglomeration of popular sites) to compare the type of content that goes viral three different ways: Twitter, Search Traffic and Facebook.
It’s a blend of news, like terrorist attacks and music shows, and evergreen silliness with Ryan Gosling and Kim Kardashian.
In Search Traffic:
Just about all of them arguably count as “news.” They describe recent events, whether it’s a bikini sighting, terrorist explosion, or celebrity death.
Of the 20 most viral stories on BuzzFeed’s network, only seven deal with recent events. Only three deal with what you might call national news stories: the Miss America Pageant, Netflix technology, and the Video Music Awards (not quite A1 fare, but news, nonetheless). But the vast majority of these stories aren’t really news, at all. They’re quizzes about your accent, lists of foods and photographs, funny reminders of what life feels like as you age. For lack of a better term: They’re entertainment.
We want the best news product in the world, but we don’t want journalists working for us.
Jason Calacanis, founder of the recently launched Inside.com, a news service designed to serve human-curated news digests to readers on mobile devices.
The start of Inside is the latest instance of mobile apps, including Circa and Yahoo’s News Digest, turning to people to help filter the din created by endless streams of content found online. Graham Holdings, the education and media company that used to be the Washington Post Company before it sold the newspaper to Jeff Bezos, released Trove last week, an overhaul of its Social Reader app that now combines human curation and algorithms to present news stories.
FJP: It sounds like an interesting trifecta of ambitions, which Calcanis discusses in an interview with Nieman Lab, excerpted below.
01. Like Netflix, it will learn your preferences and serve you accordingly.
Nobody’s figured out mobile news. The great thing about mobile it’s going to be a magnitude bigger than the web. Now that we’re in people’s pockets and we’ve learned what they want to do, we’re going to be able to really optimize people’s experience to get them to the great stuff. If they want all of the news, they can go to the all-update feed. If they want news just tailored to them, I think over the next year or two we’re going to really be able to know, hey, Staci really likes media stories and she’s really into The New York Times and she really likes these five entrepreneurs and this is her favorite baseball team — and these are the five or six types of stories she doesn’t want. She doesn’t want Kim Kardashian in her feed, because she’s voted her down twice, so we’ve never going to show it again in my topics.
02. The company wants to be Google-proof.
To make a Google-proof company, I wanted to have a killer brand that people would remember and come to like — a product so compelling that it has a repeatable effect. The problem at Mahalo or eHow is you use it for two hours to get your baking recipe, then you don’t use it again for two months — then you use it again for putting up curtains. You really rely on people going to Google.
With news, people will go directly to a site, which makes it impervious to Google. And the app ecosystem is also impervious to Google. They can’t control apps even though they have a big footprint in Android, nor have they shown a propensity to control the app ecosystem on Android. I think they would get a revolt on their hands if they did.
03. All this curation will be of strictly original content, to cut out the middle men and help great journalism get discovered.
We don’t see ourselves as the destination. We see ourselves as the curator of the best journalism in the world, so we’re very specifically only linking to the original journalist. We’re training our curators to understand The Huffington Post or Business Insider, which might do 70 to 80 percent aggregation of other people’s content and 20 to 30 percent original, and how to know the difference. So if Business Insider pulls a quote from The New York Times story and we find it on Business Insider, we’re actually going to wind up linking to The New York Times. We see ourselves as an antidote to the sort of middleman role and people rewriting other people’s content. We’re going to really actually do the work to figure out who came up with the original story.