Beyond the state-of-the-art: innovative components in CPN

Compared to neighbouring media industries, the news publishing industry has been relatively reluctant to adopt personalisation in their offering. Understandably, since a lot of industry specific ethical, journalistic and business considerations come into play.

Nonetheless, the way is being paved by companies like The Washington Post, with its Arc Publishing platform, while Adobe, with recent personalisation options in their AEM publishing software, and others following suit.

CPN wants to actively take part in this evolution and assist European news publishers to adopt personalisation. Even though it’s still early days, we are convinced we need to look beyond the state-of-the-art to offer enough value in the near future. That’s why, in parallel with the current solution that is being developed, we will research the following innovations that are new to news publishing or show great potential:

  • Content adaptation

  • Contextualised datasets

  • News bots, smart speakers and digital assistants

  • Radical innovations in trust and transparency

Content adaptation

Recommendation engines might be very useful, revolutionary, and possibly even overdue in the news publishing industry, but their technology is hardly innovative. Under the bonnet, they use the content items as separate “units of information”, created in a one-size-fits-all fashion, not tailored to any specific target audience.

CPN wants to research if adapting the content inside those news items would have a positive impact on the users’ engagement and understanding of the news. In other words, would content adaptation, combined with recommendation methods - let’s call it multi-level personalisation - have an even greater impact than recommendations alone?

News articles have plenty of elements and attributes that can be adapted to the preferences of each individual reader: the title, the header image, the length, the complexity, the tone-of-voice, the required knowledge, … All these could be adapted by software algorithms. Or at the very least, those algorithms could assist the adaptation, so the journalist can make the last call and decide which versions would suit the different target audiences.

We know Netflix uses content adaptation for their artwork. We know that leading voices in news innovation like Titus Plattner have been advocating this type of advanced personalisation. And we believe our consortium has enough combined know-how and talent to put this to practice. VRT’s newsroom will be the perfect testbed to run these experiments.

External and highly contextualised datasets

Context is king! No one wants to read a deep diving opinion piece on the Iranian nuclear crisis for breakfast. Or maybe some readers do? Then we want to know, in order to serve them as well as possible.

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CPN wants to research the use of external and highly contextual datasets to improve the types of content you’d engage with in each context. This will reduce friction, improve the return of the content offering and, ultimately, the understanding of the readers.

Personal data like the current occupation, a person’s emotions, moods and value sets, but also data that are more external in nature, like trends, the weather, traffic info and impactful social affairs like crises or elections, could contribute to the creation of intelligent contextual awareness for prediction algorithms.

We are aware that such data are very sensitive and should be handled with the utmost respect for privacy. However, when the user allows it, these data can be readily sourced from personal devices and sensors (smartphones, smartwatches, fitness trackers) and social media (a very good proxy for personal data traits, as demonstrated by Michal Kosinski in 2013).

CPN partner DIAS will look into the use of moods and value sets for use in personalisation algorithms, together with the other content partners VRT and Deutsche Welle.

News bots, smart speakers and digital assistants

Our research confirms that users wish for a more engaging, intuitive and seamless way to receive personalised news. That’s why we decided to include text- and voice-based conversational applications into our vision of the CPN platform.

These technologies are prognosed to grow significantly in the near future and they have the potential to provide a user-friendly and intuitive interface for CPN.

Chatbots have been around from the 50s, but are rapidly progressing today thanks to cheap hardware, advanced language processing and machine-learning technologies. Conversational apps in general are on the rise but haven’t been widely adopted in the news publishing industry. We want to know if they can be a valuable addition to the services of the CPN platform.

Voice-based digital assistants are a more recent technology. They have the potential to change product design as a whole, shift paradigms and advance our conceptualisation of human-machine interactions at large. The use of smart speakers skyrockets with the efforts of Google, Apple and Amazon pushing their devices to every household, and the software advancing so rapidly they even learn how to recognise emotions.

CPN wants to help news publishers enter that realm by researching ways to offer their content on these platforms, engage with users over time and even allow to create or update their news-preference profile through conversation, games and quizzes.

CPN partner Deutsche Welle brings the necessary experience to the table to do exactly that.

Radical improvement in trust and transparency

We realise that the technologies described above could be perceived as exceptionally intrusive. Add to that the malicious ways personalisation has been used in recent years and the trust in the news industry being at an all time low, and you have a difficult starting point for news personalisation.

That is why, along with other innovations, we are determined to radically innovate in our services’ privacy and transparency.

It is general knowledge by now, but our research confirms that questions (or even the slightest misconception) about the use of one’s personal data can raise an insurmountable barrier for the adoption of personalised offers.

Transparency and user control are of the utmost importance. We will research novel ways to deliver on these issues and to regain the user’s trust. Not only concerning their personal data, but also about the personalisation algorithms, in order to avoid pushing readers into a filter bubble.

The CPN technical partners’ know-how about security, combined with Digital Catapult’s excellence in all things GDPR, their experience in transparency modules and user control will ensure our services are solid, secure and trustworthy.

To conclude...

While this list of proposed innovative components is neither exhaustive nor definitive, we believe they are worth investigating to take CPN beyond the state-of-the-art.

CPN creating a solution for European news publishers to easily adopt personalisation will be a feat in and of it’s own, but given the rapid evolutions in this area we need to look ahead  and be ready for the future.

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