How News Organizations Can Get My Money

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make_moneyAlternate title:Yet Another Solution to Newspapers’ Problems

Media moguls, feel free to take this idea and run with it–I have neither the capital nor the initiative to implement it.

Media pundits, feel free to bash this idea. I haven’t seen an idea out there yet that someone hasn’t hated.

So the basic idea is pretty simple–customize the news for every online reader. Well, not every online reader. How about every online reader who pays? Sounds silly, I know, but let’s think this through.

Do you have over 1,000 unread items in your feed reader? Out of those 1,000 items, how many of them do you actually want to read anyway? How many of the ones you want to read aren’t going to get read because you eventually just hit the “mark all as read” button and start fresh? Why can’t the feed reader “learn” what types of articles you like to read and keep trend information on what you read? Why can’t the feed reader put items in three categories for me–things I want to read, things I may want to read, and things I probably don’t want to read? Google, you can already do this based on the statistics you provide in Google Reader. Why haven’t you implemented this yet?

If you use Netflix, you know how great their movie suggestion engine is. It’s incredible. I can watch movies for free on TV, but I’ll pay for delivery of exactly what I want and suggestions for more of what I want.

What if we combined the ideas of a smart feed reader and a movie suggestion engine and applied them to a news organization, but with a twist. Why not create a news personalization/suggestion engine and make it available to subscribers only?

What if news organizations provided their paid subscribers with a browser toolbar that kept up with not only the articles a user reads on their site, but also other sites. All they would really need to track data on external sites is a “thumbs up, thumbs down” button similar to the one Stumbleupon provides its users. The organization that sells the subscription already has lots of metadata (data about data) on the stories they’ve published, and they can analyze data about content from other providers.

When I pull up my local newspaper‘s web site, why do I see the same front page as everyone else? If a subscriber doesn’t care about sports based on their browsing history, why show them articles about a sporting event on the front page? On the other hand, if a subscriber checks the weather 10 times a day, it would make sense to show that visitor weather on the front page every single time they log in. To that reader, weather IS ALWAYS the top story.

And this idea can be expanded. Why not aggregate the data of all the users to recommend articles from other organizations I may like? Why not point me to blog posts that are related to the stories I’ve spent time reading?

Here’s a list of RSS feeds provided by my local paper, the Knoxville News Sentinel. Am I really supposed to comb through these, subscribe to the ones that may contain articles I’d like to read, then filter through each story posted in each feed to find the articles I want to read? That’s not practical.

It would be more practical for me to pay a premium to have my own feed taylored specifically for me. It would be filtered, prioritized, and contain suggestions for offsite content. No, it’s not an easy problem. But I think it may be one worth solving.

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