BreakingNews, the mobile-first news curation service, has relaunched its iPhone and iPad app and website to give a more personalised service.
The new update gives users the ability to 'mute' specific topics, add stories of interest to a list of trending headlines and create alerts to receive push notifications on certain topics to iOS mobile devices. The same updates are planned for the Android app soon
"We've spent so much time in the past debating what is or isn't breaking news, but the right question to be asking is 'what is breaking news to our readers'?" Cory Bergman, founder of BreakingNews told Journalism.co.uk.
As a solution, he said, the new version of BreakingNews allows users to choose topics that interest them the most out of all the stories chosen by editors. Users can mute or save topics depending on their preference and set up push notifications for topics they are particularly interested in. Bergman says BreakingNews currently publishes "around 300 updates per day on 600 to 700 topics".
Screenshot from the BreakingNews iOS app
A story's status among readers is determined by a "whoa!" button beside the headline, so chosen because, said Bergman, surprise is a better metric for breaking news than popularity.
"We’ve never been a fan of a 'like' button next to a breaking news story," Bergman said in a blogpost on Medium accompanying the changes. "Do you really 'like' that earthquake? Social popularity — be it likes or retweets — is a poor metric for breaking news."
"We’re looking forward to seeing how this new metric of surprise compares with existing metrics of social popularity," he continued. "We’ll also be tracking which stories and topics are muted and alerted the most, all in real time. We’ll share what we learn in the weeks and months to come."
Screenshot from BreakingNews.com
Mapping breaking stories
An existing map on the website has been significantly updated. New stories, selected by BreakingNews's network of editors in the US and UK, appear in red and trending stories, as selected by readers, appear in blue.
"The map on the site is a big improvement over the old," Bergman said, "draggable, fully responsive, circles illustrate volume of stories, and when you mouse-over a story it displays the full update."
A screenshot of the BreakingNews map
The BreakingNews team now also have a real-time dashboard to monitor readers' response to stories. On the evening of the day the new system launched, Bergman said that he saw "immediate polarisation" in the response to a headline about American football, with "a bunch of people muting and a bunch of people alerting". A little later they also noted, a similar, if less extreme response to a suspected mall shooting in New Jersey.
"Some stories are very engaging with people and considered to be breaking news and others have no import to them," he told Journalism.co.uk. "We wanted to give the tools for people to make that decision on their own, in a light easy way but not trap them in a filter bubble."
The organisation's move to a more personalised service follows the success of News360 and Circa in providing updates on news stories tailored to their readers preferences, although Bergman said BreakingNews is taking a "completely different approach" to other news aggregator apps.
"If you compare us to Google alerts, or any other system with a keyword match, we only tell you if there's breaking news about something," he said, stressing how alerts have "been the format of breaking news since the wire services and that has persisted through the decades."
BreakingNews originally launched as a Twitter account before being acquired by MSNBC in 2009.
Read more about news organisations experiments with personalisation here.
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