Well, I think I have waited long enough! When Ashley Highfield became CEO of Johnston Press in the UK I had hoped that the next generation newspaper would pop out as speedily as the BBC iPlayer did during his digital reign at the BBC. But time is moving on and I feel that I must file at least an interim report on this front. And in doing so I will try to avoid the now useless words of the day, the “over-used and under-defined until meaningless “terms like Ecosystem and Curation which now litter this discussion until whole sentences can be written in code which only the originator can unpick – and which he dares us to question. Twenty five years as a consultant has made me value obscurity and multiple shades of meaning as much as the next man from McKinsey, but here I will try to avoid terms that defeat the object and soften the brain, and you can be the judge of my success!

The relationship with the newspaper has broken down, but not our relationship with the news. Excellent commentators like Chris Anderson have pointed out that very local news – the car crash on the next street, the local government decision on street lighting in an area – can have more lasting resonance than an international crisis or a distant war. Yet if we are interested in either type of information, we want all we can get until our interest peaks – and wanes. Our friends can be vital news sources alongside Reuters or AP. We need to be able to follow new themes without fussy form-filling, and we do not need to be bored by news updates on issues of no or of former concern. We want no intrusive advertising, but we are happy to be sold the new product lines of retailers who interest us, provided that they disappear when they cease to interest us. We want the back story in full when we want it, as a desirable default which we can call up but not as something which we have to endure on every theme that interests us. We want services that learn from us, yet also services which give us the opportunity to find new issues (“if you liked that, try this…”).

So the next newspaper is a community, with social networking elements, and an intelligent system with regard to internet-wide story-gathering. It looks to its readers privacy, and security, at every stage, and links to retail are permitted by assent of users only. It is dedicated to the avoidance of spam and casual advertising contact. In order to ensure that its lists cannot be sold for lead generation purposes it is probably a subscription service, utilizing some existing news brands to give it authority and credibility. Like Darwin’s tree shrews, there are some prototypes of aspects of all of this around, but no niche-dominating mammals are yet in sight. Facebook, with its graph search and its links to Bing clearly thinks this way, and poses a huge threat to the dessicated remains of the old guard press in Europe and North America. Yet Facebook may not survive its willingness to sell its audience. And at present it does not quite engage with the “workflow” of the consumer – this service must also link to user requirements in education (personal and family), to health and healthcare and to savings and investments – just like that good old jumbo Sunday supplement in print, only fully profiled. Facebook has the Recommendation style to do the job, using the community effectively to drive choice, but I believe it will be the inspiration of the next generation of solutions, rather than the floor plan.

Turn instead to look at some of the software available. Start with Gravity (www.gravity.com), the haven of the escaped crew of My Space regrouped under CEO Anit Kapur . But this is not another Community. It launched its Personalization API last week (1 February 2013) and has become a very effective technology for interfacing trad Web with the device world of mobile. And this is vital – Your Newspaper is very Mobile. Whether this personalization works for advertisers I rather doubt, but here is a technology which is ready to go for “publishers” and well worth experimenting with: press coverage of Davos noted that Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer had said that “interest graphs” (see Facebook above) were part of Yahoo’s future. Well, here they are in the present. And then, look at My6Sense (www.my6sense.com), the Israeli contestant in this beauty parade. Maybe the first move in mobile will be the personalised content bar of this type, since we currently seem lost for an interface on mobile platforms which enables us to unwrap personalised services at will… And now, go for a long browse on Trap!t (http://trap.it). Ignore that annoying exclamation mark! Here is a beta with a sample of 100,000 news sources just moving into AI gear to give a new twist to “adaptive reasoning “in the context of personalized information. It is founded on CALO technology – Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes – and comes out of DARPA (a first cousin therefore of Apple’s Siri). Despite the appalling linguistic crimes on this site (the founders, in true Silicon Valley mode, claim to have created a “cognitive prosthetic”), this is the closest that I can identify at present as the progenitor of the newspaper of the future. Mobile, intelligent, personalized ( yet suggesting new avenues). So who can implement, and what happened to those Russians?

The Russians in my headline are the Lebedevs, Alexander and Evgeny, Father and Son. And the context here is the fact that they own London’s evening newspaper, the Evening Standard. Formerly a DMGT property, this also entails owning some 33 hyperlocal web services around the London region. And the UK’s regulator, ever dedicated to preventing dangerous concentrations of media power in Britain, has just awarded the local television franchise for London, London Live, to (you have guessed it) the Lebedevs (presumably on the grounds that they were not Murdochs!) For once, I applaud a monopoly, since this media integration in a region large enough to sustain development at scale could be the spawning ground for the rise of MyNewpaperInLondon, as they will probably call it. When real broadband comes to the UK it will come to the London region first (the EU/UK plan calls for 100 mb/second by 2020, though that plan has been reduced in funding from £50bn to $24bn so the British government can build a prestige railway line to the North!). Whatever the politics, this intense content concentration, plus mobile, plus infrastructure, plus all of the available intelligent software equals an immense opportunity. Hope we are all equal to it!


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1 Comment so far

  1. Shane O'Neill on February 13, 2013 22:05


    You have obviously been influencing the Department for Transport to become aware of digital workflows.

    Yesterday they reversed their own policy and announced they were going to keep the legal requirement to publish road closure information in local print newspapers.

    Good to see Ministers bravely resisting the press barons once again!