Posts about pew

Maybe news is just more efficient

I wonder whether Andrew Kohut got his analysis of Pew Research’s latest survey of news consumption — as my West Virginia father would say — bassackwards.

Pew finds again that young people are spending less time with news — 46 minutes per day for millenials (ages 18-31) vs. 84 minutes for the so-called silent generation (ages 67-84 … though my 80+-tear-old parents are far from silent). That’s only a little over half as much time. This leads Kohut to predict a “perilous future for news.” Conventional wisdom would certainly agree. I have too, arguing for sometime that one of our biggest problems in news is declining engagement.

But what if instead Pew’s survey indicates that for young people news is simply more efficient? They don’t have to block out time to sift through a newspaper to find what matters to them and more time sitting, passively watching an hour or more of local and national TV news to get a one-size-fits-all summary that could be more efficiently delivered online: more meat, less bun.

Now I know that the public spending less time with news as currently configured is injurious to our egos and business models. But those models are based on the mass media equation of audience attention and time equaling exposure to more ads. See my argument with Google chief economist Hal Varian over just this point last week: Attention worked as a model when we in mass media operated by the myth that all readers or viewers saw all ads so we could charge all advertisers for all of them. In those good old days, more people giving us more time (in truth, only a proxy for attention) could be monetized through CPM mass advertising, whose price we controlled through our ownership of the scare resources of production and distribution. Great while it lasted. But abundance kills that model.

Thus Pew’s latest survey makes me think we are still chasing the wrong horse. 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.

I always tell my students that where they see a problem, they should look for the opportunity in it. Journalists tend to find problems and stop there, complaining. Engineers find problems and seek solutions. If the problem is that young people spend less time with news, where is the opportunity in that? I say it is in helping anyone of any age spend even less time, getting more information more efficiently.

So let’s look at this issue entrepreneurially and invent a new service: News Pal.

News Pal requires knowing you and what you want. Google should be good at this but, surprisingly, Google News has left that opportunity for others to grab. It feeds me the same Google News everyone else gets. If I want to get something more relevant, it makes me go through the effort of manipulating sliders for various categories and adding keywords. That is so 1998, so My Yahoo, which is better under Marissa Mayer but which still requires me to make my own predictive personalization decisions. Some 15 years ago, I filled out that Yahoo form … and never returned. Four years ago, when still at Google, Mayer dreamed of a hyperpersonal news stream, but neither Google nor Yahoo has yet built it.

I want News Pal to be an emergent system that watches what I watch in news and feeds me accordingly with no effort on my part. If it sees that I watch news about Android, it should prioritize Android news. If it sees that I stop caring about Android after I buy a phone, it should stop caring for me. If it sees that I never read sports, it shouldn’t give me football stories. If it knows where I live and work, it should give me relevant news for those locations. Of course, this system should also give me the news that everyone will want to know, feeding me reports on the Kenyan mall attack even if I haven’t shown an attraction to Kenyan news. Editors recognize those breakthrough stories. So does Google News’ algorithm.

I also want News Pal to cut through the worsening clutter of repetition. Look at the tech blog landscape, where the slightest morsel of news or rumor replicates like The Andromeda Strain, mutating as it gets farther from the source. Google and Google News have made efforts in recent years to seek more signals of authority and originality of reporting as did the startup where I was a partner, Daylife. But they and others can do much more. They all have made the mistake of trying to analyze media as news sources. The real winner will also use Twitter, Google+, Facebook, YouTube, et al to find original sources in a larger information ecosystem: difficult but doable.

Cir.ca is a worthy News Pal competitor, for it offers two bits of value I want. It cuts up articles into constituent elements and so, if you’ve already seen an element of a story, it doesn’t waste your time giving it to you again. It also enables you to follow a story as it happens — not predicting a tag of interest as required by Google News and My Yahoo.

In the net, my News Pal would give me greater relevance because it knows me, higher quality because it knows news sources, and greater efficiency because it reduces the noise in news. It would take the advice of Medium founder Ev Williams — who has twice changed media, thus changed the world (and earned a billion-plus bucks via Blogger and Twitter) — adding effiency. Wired summarized its interview with him:

The bottom line, Williams said, is that the internet is “a giant machine designed to give people what they want.” It’s not a utopia. It’s not magical. It’s simply an engine of convenience. Those who can tune that engine well — who solve basic human problems with greater speed and simplicity than those who came before — will profit immensely….

There’s an organizing principle that explains what thrives on the internet and could potentially predict what will thrive in the future: Convenience.

“The internet makes human desires more easily attainable. In other words, it offers convenience,” he said. “Convenience on the internet is basically achieved by two things: speed, and cognitive ease.” In other words, people don’t want to wait, and they don’t want to think — and the internet should respond to that. “If you study what the really big things on the internet are, you realize they are masters at making things fast and not making people think.”

Or waste time, as news makes us do now. That is the lesson from so-called millennials in Pew’s study: They are more efficient with their news.

What about the business model? News Pal would gain my loyalty — and, ironically, my attention — making the switching cost away from it high. If it really builds my hyperpersonal news stream — including such streams as my email — it could compete with Google and Twitter. It would gather valuable signals about me and my interest that it could exploit with higher value advertising and commerce and data. News Pal itself would be quite efficient, depending on smart algorithms.

I remember sitting in a meeting with Yahoo founder Jerry Yang many years ago when he said it was his job to get you want you needed as quickly as possible. The quicker your visit to Yahoo, he said then, the better its service. That changed, of course, when Yahoo adopted the mass-media advertising model built around attention and impressions, loading it up with content. Yahoo could have been News Pal if it had followed Yang’s vision of efficiency over drag. Therein lies the real lesson of Pew’s latest survey, I think.

Efficiency isn’t the enemy of news. It should be the goal.

Rewired youth?

Pew and Elon University surveyed a bunch of blatherers, including me, about the impact of the internet on youth, asking us to respond to a number of contrary scenarios about the year 2020. Lots of interesting responses here. I saved mine. Snippets:

* Survey on rewired youth: In 2020 the brains of multitasking teens and young adults are “wired” differently from those over age 35 and overall it yields helpful results. They do not suffer notable cognitive shortcomings as they multitask and cycle quickly through personal- and work-related tasks. Rather, they are learning more and they are more adept at finding answers to deep questions, in part because they can search effectively and access collective intelligence via the Internet. In sum, the changes in learning behavior and cognition among the young generally produce positive outcomes.

In 2020, the brains of multitasking teens and young adults are “wired” differently from those over age 35 and overall it yields baleful results. They do not retain information; they spend most of their energy sharing short social messages, being entertained, and being distracted away from deep engagement with people and knowledge. They lack deep-thinking capabilities; they lack face-to-face social skills; they depend in unhealthy ways on the Internet and mobile devices to function. In sum, the changes in behavior and cognition among the young are generally negative outcomes.

* Me: I don’t buy the punchline but I do buy the joke. I do not believe technology will change our brains and how we are “wired.” But it can change how we cognate and navigate our world. We will adapt and find the benefits in this change.

Hark back to Gutenberg. Elizabeth Eisenstein, our leading Gutenberg scholar, says that after the press, people no longer needed to use rhyme as a tool to memorize recipes and other such information. Instead, we now relied on text printed on paper. I have no doubt that curmudgeons at the time lamented lost skills. Text became our new collective memory. Sound familiar? Google is simply an even more effective cultural memory machine. I think it has already made us a more fact-based; when in doubt about a fact, we no longer have to trudge to the library but can expect to find the answer in seconds.

Scholars at the University of Southern Denmark have coined the wonderful phrase “the Gutenberg Parenthesis” to examine the shift into and now out of a textually based society. Before the press, information was passed mouth-to-ear, scribe-to-scribe; it was changed in the process; there was little sense of ownership and authorship. In the five-century-long Gutenberg era, text did set how we see our world: serially with a neat beginning and a defined end; permanent; authored. Now, we are passing out of this textual era and that may well affect how we *look* at our world. That may appear to change how we think. But it won’t change our wires.

* Survey on education: In 2020, higher education will not be much different from the way it is today. While people will be accessing more resources in classrooms through the use of large screens, teleconferencing, and personal wireless smart devices, most universities will mostly require in-person, on-campus attendance of students most of the time at courses featuring a lot of traditional lectures. Most universities’ assessment of learning and their requirements for graduation will be about the same as they are now.

By 2020, higher education will be quite different from the way it is today. There will be mass adoption of teleconferencing and distance learning to leverage expert resources. Significant numbers of learning activities will move to individualized, just-in-time learning approaches. There will be a transition to “hybrid” classes that combine online learning components with less-frequent on-campus, in-person class meetings. Most universities’ assessment of learning will take into account more individually-oriented outcomes and capacities that are relevant to subject mastery. Requirements for graduation will be significantly shifted to customized outcomes.

Me: The disruption that has overtaken media will next take on education.

It simply does not make sense for thousands of educators around the world to write and deliver the same lecture on, say, capillary action — most of them bad. The best can be shared and found. Then, I believe, in-person education becomes more a matter of tutoring. Think of the Oxbridge lecturer/tutor structure distributed via the net. This quickly changes the economics of education: The marginal cost of another student learning from the finest lecturers in the world is zero. Teachers will need to see how they are needed and how they add value.

In my book, What Would Google Do?, I looked at separating the functions of a university: teaching, certification, research, socialization. These need not be accomplished all in the same space. Will there still be universities? Likely, but not certain. I also discussed the idea that our current educational system, start to end, is built for an industrial era, churning out students like widgets who are taught to churn our widgets themselves. This is a world where there is one right answer: we spew it from a lecturn; we exepct it to be spewed back in a test. That kind of education does not produce the innovators who would invent Google.

The real need for education in the economy will be re-education. As industries go through disruption and jobs are lost forever, people will need to be retrained for new roles. Our present educational structure is not built for that but in that I see great entrepreneurial opportunity.

* Survey on commerce: By 2020, most people will have embraced and fully adopted the use of smart-device swiping for purchases they make, nearly eliminating the need for cash or credit cards. People will come to trust and rely on personal hardware and software for handling monetary transactions over the Internet and in stores. Cash and credit cards will have mostly disappeared from many of the transactions that occur in advanced countries.

People will not trust the use of near-field communications devices and there will not be major conversion of money to an all-digital-all-the-time format. By 2020, payments through the use of mobile devices will not have gained a lot of traction as a method for transactions. The security implications raise too many concerns among consumers about the safety of their money. And people are resistant to letting technology companies learn even more about their personal purchasing habits. Cash and credit cards will still be the dominant method of carrying out transactions in advanced countries.

Me: Not only will our notion of currency change as it becomes electronic and (even more) virtual, but I see the possibility for new currencies measuring new value. We could, for example, award and trade in points for responsible environmental behavior. I also see the possibility to create new currencies that cut across national borders, independent of governments. We have already seen the first nascent attempts to do this. It won’t be easy but it is theoretically possible.

Survey on apps: In 2020, most people will prefer to use specific applications (apps) accessible by Internet connection to accomplish most online work, play, communication, and content creation. The ease of use and perceived security and quality-assurance characteristics of apps will be seen as superior when compared with the open Web. Most industry innovation and activity will be devoted to apps development and updates, and use of apps will occupy the majority of technology-users’ time. There will be a widespread belief that the World Wide Web is less important and useful than in the past and apps are the dominant factor in people’s lives.

In 2020, the World Wide Web is stronger than ever in users’ lives. The open Web continues to thrive and grow as a vibrant place where most people do most of their work, play, communication, and content creation. Apps accessed through iPads, Kindles, Nooks, smartphones, Droid devices, and their progeny – the online tools GigaOM referred to as “the anti-Internet” –  will be useful as specialized options for a finite number of information and entertainment functions. There will be a widespread belief that, compared to apps, the Web is more important and useful and is the dominant factor in people’s lives.

Me: Oh, I have downloaded lots of apps. But I use only a small number of them and I have seen research showing that this is typical. This survey showed that people use apps for certain obvious activities — such as games — but use their browsers for content, mail, and other functions. Since that data was gathered, Ugly Birds was ported to HTML5 and the browser.

The browser — or its future equivalent — will continue to have key advantages over apps: they are connected to the entire net; they offer full interoperability; they give the user more power than the developer or publisher. Yes, publishers have dreamed that apps would return to them the control of content, experience, business model, and pricing that the net took from them, but they are merely deluding themselves. The value is not in their control of content but in the ability to become platforms for users to do what they want to do.

* Survey on big data: Thanks to many changes, including the building of “the Internet of Things,” human and machine analysis of large data sets will improve social, political, and economic intelligence by 2020. The rise of what is known as “Big Data” will facilitate things like  ”nowcasting” (real-time “forecasting” of events); the development of “inferential software” that assesses data patterns to project outcomes; and the creation of algorithms for advanced correlations that enable new understanding of the world. Overall, the rise of Big Data is a huge positive for society in nearly all respects.

Thanks to many changes, including the building of “the Internet of Things,” human and machine analysis of Big Data will cause more problems than it solves by 2020. The existence of huge data sets for analysis will engender false confidence in our predictive powers and will lead many to make significant and hurtful mistakes. Moreover, analysis of Big Data will be misused by powerful people and institutions with selfish agendas who manipulate findings to make the case for what they want. And the advent of Big Data has a harmful impact because it serves the majority (at times inaccurately) while diminishing the minority and ignoring important outliers. Overall, the rise of Big Data is a big negative for society in nearly all respects.

Me: Media and regulators are demonizing Big Data and its supposed threat to privacy. Such moral panics have occurred often thanks to changes in technology. I examine this in Public Parts. With the advent of the press, authors feared having their ideas attached to their names, stored permanently and distributed widely. The invention of the Kodak portable camera caused the first serious discussion of a legal right to privacy in 1890. Now the internet and its ability to gather, store, spread, and analyze data is causing similar fears — witness the Wall Street Journal’s effort to whip up a moral manic over cookies and “what *they* know.” That’s not to say that we should not guard against untoward outcomes; technology itself is neutral and can be used for good ends and bad. But the wise will look for and exploit the new opportunities technology provides.

Case in point: the researchers who found that by analyzing the mood of twitter — a set of six emotions and their opposites — they could, with stunning reliability, predict daily ups and downs in the Dow index. Not surprisingly, their formulae are now the basis of a hedge fund. Someone found value in the supposedly worthless blathering about our lives. I would not be surprised if others find the same value and neutralize the researchers’ advantage or even if clever spammers find ways to game the mood on Twitter. But the moral of the story remains: there is value to be found in this data, value in our newfound publicness.

Google’s founders have urged government regulators not to require them to quickly delete searches because, in their patterns and anomalies, they have found the ability to track the outbreak of the flu before health officials could and they believe that by similarly tracking a pandemic, millions of lives could be saved.

Demonizing data, big or small, is demonizing knowledge and that is never wise.

* Survey on games: By 2020, gamification (the use of game mechanics, feedback loops, and rewards to spur interaction and boost engagement, loyalty, fun and/or learning) will not be implemented in most everyday digital activities for most people. While game use and game-like structures will remain an important segment of the communications scene and will have been adopted in new ways, the gamification of other aspects of communications will not really have advanced much beyond being an interesting development implemented occasionally by some segments of the population in some circumstances.

By 2020, there will have been significant advances in the adoption and use of gamification. It will be making waves on the communications scene and will have been implemented in many new ways for education, health, work, and other aspects of human connection and it will play a role in the everyday activities of many of the people who are actively using communications networks in their daily lives.

Me: I think gamification is overblown, but that could simply be because I am not a gamer. Angry Birds was fun while it lasted, but it didn’t change my life.

* Survey on connected homes: By 2020, the connected household has become a model of efficiency, as people are able to manage consumption of resources (electricity, water, food, even bandwidth) in ways that place less of a burden on the environment while saving households money. Thanks to what is known as “Smart Systems,” the “Home of the Future” that has often been foretold is coming closer and closer to becoming a reality.

By 2020, most initiatives to embed IP-enabled devices in the home have failed due to difficulties in gaining consumer trust and because of the complexities in using new services. As a result, the home of 2020 looks about the same as the home of 2011 in terms of resource consumption and management.Once again, the “Home of the Future” does not come to resemble the future projected in the recent past.

Me: Complexity is a solvable problem in the right hands. We should wish for the iHome from Apple. Connectivity will lead to efficiency when economics dictate: when we save a lot of money with our air-conditioning or when we are penalized for not doing so or when we penalize cable companies for the power-hogging boxes.

Survey on freedom: In 2020, technology firms with their headquarters in democratic countries will be expected to abide by a set of norms – for instance, the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) citizens being attacked or challenged by their governments. In this world, for instance, a Western telecommunications firm would not be able to selectively monitor or block the Internet activity of protestors at the behest of an authoritarian government without significant penalties in other markets.

In 2020, technology firms headquartered in democratic countries will have taken steps to minimize their usefulness as tools for political organizing by dissidents. They will reason that too much association with sensitive activities will put them in disfavor with autocratic governments. Indeed, in this world, commercial firms derive significant income from filtering and editing their services on behalf of the world’s authoritarian regimes.

Me: Pardon me for the plug, but this is in the end the point of my next book, Public Parts: It is a call for us to protect our tools of publicness. At the e-G8, I urged President Sarkozy to join with the national leaders he was about to meet and take a Hippocratic oath for the internet: first do no harm. His reflex and that of governments is to control and regulate. We, the citizens of the net, must resist and I believe the way to do that is to discuss the principles of the network. In the book, I propose a set of principles. They are wrong. Indeed, in our distributed internet, we will never — we should never — end up with one set of principles from one governance. The fact that no one can control the net is what makes the net free. But we do need to discuss the principles that underly our net so we can point to them when governments and companies violate them and so we can give cover to good actors who try to resist control from bad governments.

The money graph

A new Pew study on the economics of news does not give comfort to news sites planning pay schemes. It also does not give me comfort that we’re wasting precious time futzing over walls when we should be paying attention to the big problems we have — one of which this Pew study points out: dreadful engagement and loyalty — and should be looking at other ways to give and gain value in our relationships with the public. The Pew data:

Over all, the evidence suggests the outlook is difficult both for paywalls and for online display advertising. While most people have not been asked to pay for content, even among the most avid news consumers online, only about one in five at this point say they would be willing to pay, and this does not include less voracious news consumers. At the same time, the vast majority of those online, 8 out of 10, say they basically ignore online ads.

In short, a good deal must change, the data suggests, before the digital age will begin to sustain itself.

About 71% of internet users, or 53% of all American adults, get news online today, a number that has held relatively steady in recent years.

Most of these online news consumers graze across multiple sites without having a primary one that they rely on. Only 35% of online news consumers have a favorite site.

To put it another way, 65% of online news consumers do not have a site that is so important to them that it stands out in their minds above all other sites they visit.

The users who do have a favorite site are pretty faithful. Some 65% of them check in with that favorite site at least once a day.

Yet even among these most loyal news consumers, only a minority (19%) said they would be willing to pay for news online, including those who already do so and those who would be willing to if asked.

Instead, a large majority – 82% – of those with a favorite site said they would find somewhere else to get the news.

Because so few online news consumers even have a favorite site this translates to only 7% of all people who get news online having a favorite online news source that they say they would pay for.

This is a sign of just how much initial difficulty the movement toward pay walls could have.

In sum, there appears to be only a very small cohort of voracious news consumers who have to have their news from a particular site, even if they have to pay for it. The vast majority of online news consumers, though, seem willing to browse for news from many sites, do not have a favorite online news source, and even if they do, are not willing to pay for that site’s content.

This is not to say that resistance might breakdown over time. . . .

All these findings speak to the natural disadvantage of news content: Most news is covered by more than one organization and people do not place enough value on the difference between the various reports. In other words, if a user had to pay for a New York Times article on Haiti, evidence suggests that he or she would just look for another source that could provide the basic information. The nuances of depth or breadth in the pay story may not be valued enough to induce payment over a free alternative.

Thus, if the news industry is going to make headway with pay-walls, they are going to have to break through what for now appears to be continuing reluctance, even among its most avid consumers.

News is a constant

The latest Pew study on news usage is out (David Newberger does a great job picking the good bits) but this is what struck me:

The consumption use of news across media is fairly constant. Use of newspapers is shrinking. Says Pews: “…even the highest estimate of daily newspaper readership — 43% for both print and online readers –­ is still well below the number reading a print newspaper on a typical day 10 years ago (50%).” That leads some to believe that interest in news is thus decreasing, but Pew says that’s not the case:

The rise of the internet has also not increased the overall news consumption of the American public. The percentage of Americans who skip the news entirely on a typical day has not declined since the 1990s. Nor are Americans spending any more time with the news than they did a decade ago when their news choices were much more limited. In 1996, people on average spent slightly more than an hour (66 minutes) getting the news from TV, radio or newspapers. Currently, they spend virtually the same amount of time (67 minutes) getting the news from all major news sources, the internet included.

So news is that much of a chunk of life. People want that much news and they then allocate how to get their news across more choices and more means to get the news that is relevant to them. Some might say this is evidence of attention scarcity but I think it’s more like interest scarcity: News is only so worthwhile. An hour a day for news is a quite sane proportion — large, I think — but it is limited.

: Oh, and tell this to Jack Shafer:

But one constant remains: Local and community news continues to be the biggest draw for newspapers. And as was the case during the mid-1980s, roughly nine-in-ten of those who at least sometimes read a newspaper say they spend a significant amount of time getting the news about their city, town or region.

: More from Pew:

People who say they logged on for news yesterday spent 32 minutes, on average, getting the news online. That is significantly less than the average number of minutes that newspaper readers, radio news listeners, and TV news viewers spend with those sources. And while nearly half of all Americans (48%) spend at least 30 minutes getting news on television, just 9% spend that long getting news online.

I think that’s a bit of a red herring. The use of each medium is different: one passive and time-based, another directed and involved. Even so, it’s clear that the internet is not taking over news. It is remixing news time. Says Pew:

The web serves mostly as a supplement to other sources rather than a primary source of news. Those who use the web for news still spend more time getting news from other sources than they do getting news online. In addition, web news consumers emphasize speed and convenience over detail. Of the 23% who got news on the internet yesterday, only a minority visited newspaper websites. Instead, websites that include quick updates of major headlines, such as MSNBC, Yahoo, and CNN, dominate the web-news landscape.

And then they add this:

To some degree, news consumers are drawn to the internet for the very reason that it does

not take much time to get news online. Most users say what distinguishes web news is its format and accessibility ­ the ease of navigation, speed with which information can be gathered, and convenience “at my fingertips.”

I wonder whether there is a way to get another measure of news: how many stories, how many topics, hoe much information, rather than just how much time. In other words: If you spend 30 minutes watching TV news, you get a handful of stories. If you spend 30 minutes online, you could get dozens of stories or you could spend a long time on one. Time is not the best measure. I want to know about the number of news nuggets mined.

Much more to dig into in the Pew survey….

: LATER: Nicholas Carr writes about the survey, too. He tries, as usual, to turn this into a confrontation, though I don’t think it is; it’s all a matter of degree and time but the trends are the trends.

(By the way, Carr never passes up an opportunity to snipe at me as his resident philistine, which is fine, and I’ve parried back. But I’ll also note that when we met at an Annenberg event, he didn’t have the guts to say any of that, face-to-face. I sought him and and joked that we were matter meeting antimatter. He did not discuss his apparent efforts to feud. But then he got back online and immediately brought out the rifle again. It’s odd to define oneself by what one is not but if you do that, I suppose you need to find or manufacture an opposite number. This is all beside the point. And that’s my point.)