Report: Technology trends journalists should watch in 2016
Bots, ambient interfaces and 'intentional rabbit holes' are some of the trends outlined in Webbmedia Group's annual trends report
An annual report exploring digital media and technology trends and their likely impact on organisations in 2016 was published today by Webbmedia Group.
This year's research is the most comprehensive from the team so far, featuring 81 trends to watch over the next 12 months, as well as key insights and examples to help organisations prepare for the next wave of technological innovation.
Journalism.co.uk has picked five trends from the report that could have a larger impact on news organisations and the way the interact with their audience.
"Interestingly, I think a lot of news organisations are probably using bots without even realising it," Amy Webb, chief executive of Webbmedia Group, told Journalism.co.uk.
Slack, which now has more than 1 million daily users, is one example.
Some news organisations have already started experimented with Slack as a way of automating certain newsroom processes that can be done faster or better by an algorithm, freeing up journalists to do more meaningful things.
Over the summer, The New York Times built a tool called Blossom, a Slack bot.
Blossom could predict how articles shared by the outlet would do on social media and also suggest which stories should be promoted on certain platforms, based on the type of content and data from analytics.
"Bots can do things like going through all the data that's presented along with the story and tag it in a more meaningful way.
"The way that you might tag a story may not be the same thing that is going to attract me to read it, so one of the benefits of using a bot-based system is standardisation."
Webb said this would allow newsrooms to develop standards for storing metadata in a consistent way for the purposes of external and internal search, but still allowing them to easily refresh or add new elements to the process of categorising this data.
"There's a handful of companies that are using artificial intelligence and machine learning to observe lots of different websites, such as the comments made on YouTube or the frequency of changes made in Wikipedia," said Webb.
"These are places where people are essentially having conversations – they might not be traditional ones, but there is a dialogue happening in those spaces."
News organisations have started experimenting with automated articles through the work of technology companies like Arria or Automated Insights, but artificial intelligence algorithms could "in a way, predict how likely it is for something to happen and when, based on data".
This could be particularly useful in investigative journalism, said Webb, where a computer could speed up the process of transcribing and coding transcriptions or interviews.
"At the moment, computers can't completely figure out what somebody meant, we're not quite there yet, but they can go through and parse quite a bit of that data, allowing journalists to use it as a base for their reporting," she added.
"The challenge for news organisations for the past decade has been capturing people's attention, at a time when they are bombarded with information."
Webb said an ambient interface would solve the problem, rather than forcing the reader to decide when and where to consume news and in what format.
It would help news outlets hyper-personalise the distribution of their stories based on what the individual is doing at a given time.
"We're carrying around a device, the mobile phone, and even though we're not actively thinking about it, our phone knows how fast we're moving, if we've stopped, and it can look at the calendar and our activity.
"So it can detect if now would be a good time to listen to a story or maybe just get three bullet point sentences as a push notification."
For example, Google Now is an ambient interface and it works by automatically surfacing useful information for an individual as soon as they need it, like weather reports, without it being requested.
Intentional rabbit holes
News organisations are constantly trying to innovate in how they provide context in stories, particularly through embeds and visual elements.
But what if they could have a more layered approach to hyperlinks they include in articles, and craft an intentional path that would take the reader on a journey to where the story first started or a significant event happened?
In July, The Washington Post built The Knowledge Map to help people catch up with ongoing developments about the Islamic State, providing relevant background and attempting to answer questions they might have.
"In the past, we would've glossed over things we didn't know in a story, because if you're sitting down reading a newspaper, you can't click on it.
"But in this modern age of the internet, people leave sites because if they're curious enough, they want to find out more and they don't come back," said Webb.
She added that is unlikely for readers to know 100 per cent of the references made within a news story and journalists should find new ways to provide the information required without sending people away from the page.
The recent terror attacks in Paris showed a need for news organisations to focus more on real-time verification, particularly as people are now likely to follow breaking news across multiple devices, from more than one news source at the same time.
"I think that in the shorter term, real-time fact-checking would be more useful with regards to things like elections and speeches, people having conversations versus breaking news evens, where we don't have enough information," Webb said.
So far, news outlets and other organisations have fact-checked political speeches and election debates by preloading the text into a database, that would be checked at the same time as the video was playing.
"But I'm talking about a real-time audio recognition technology, which we have, and speech translation, which we also have.
"So, for 2016, real-time fact-checking may not be real-time as much as 10-second delay fact-checking, but I still think that's a worthwhile pursuit, because it's another one of those things that is so firmly rooted in the public interest," said Webb.
The full report is now available on SlideShare.
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