‘News on Demand’ caters to reader attention spans

A new project curates news based on how much and how long users wish to read

Readers are busier than ever and their time is at a premium. Which is why journalist Marie-Catherine Beuth is developing News on Demand, a mobile news service that tailors information to users’ attention spans.

The app will present the day’s five main news stories as articles of varying length, curated from numerous news sources, said Beuth. Users will then be able to read about the stories that most interest them, at the lengths that best suit the time they have available.

“Your interest in a given story, and the time that you have to read it, and the context you are in are three factors that determine what you might want to see at a given time,” Beuth said. The app will respond to all three.

Supported by the Knight Journalism Prototype Fund, News on Demand will rely on a combination of human curation and computer aggregation, and it will tailor content to what Beuth calls “attention profiles”: people reading during the morning rush hour, for example, might want to read less than users taking an afternoon coffee break.

Beuth said the service is designed with “the anti-news junkie” in mind: someone who is interested in keeping up with the news, but has neither the time nor the inclination to follow a constant stream of information on news sites or social media. “It’s very hard to predict how much time you have. It’s hard to know in advance that you can commit five minutes to reading the news, or 10 minutes,” she said. And even if readers do set aside time to concentrate on news stories, they might prefer to read a handful of short articles or “explainers” than one in-depth piece. News on Demand helps simplify their selection process.

The app was partly inspired by Newstapes, a project Beuth created during her Knight Journalism Fellowship last year. “With Newstapes, I tried to answer a very simple question,” Beuth said. “If somebody has not followed a story at all, how do I catch him or her up in a timely fashion?” Her solution was to choose one major story per day and present it in articles of varying length and detail—a rudimentary form of News on Demand.

Beuth has been covering digital media for French newspaper Le Figaro for nine years, and watched as technology revolutionized how people consumed and distributed news. “Our time is the one resource that stays the same,” she said. “You have to find a way to match all this content with a limited resource.”

News on Demand is still a prototype. Beuth is developing the app with Web engineer Xavier Laumonier, and is also looking for a designer to help build its user interface. She hopes to have a finished product up and running by October.

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Edirin Oputu is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @EdirinOputu Tags: , , ,