Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Snapchat wants to slip a little news into teens’ social smartphone time
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Dec. 6, 2011, 10 a.m.

Politico emphasizes personalization in its latest app update

Like some other smartphone news apps, Politico’s adds in more feeds, more streams of information, and more of its website’s content.

Smartphone news apps are built on sacrifices. Few provide the full wealth of information available on the web sites news organizations have spent years building up and out; the screen size alone limits the information density an app can present to the reader. Whether it’s interactive graphics, multimedia, or entire blogs or sections, something’s usually missing.

For Politico, that meant their original iPhone app exchanged some of the website’s richness and variety of content for simplicity. For an outlet built for reporting specifics at speed, that was a sacrifice worth living with. Or at least it was, Ryan Mannion, Politico’s chief technology officer told me. “The biggest thing we saw is people didn’t want their experience dumbed down,” he said. “They didn’t want an inferior experience when going to the app versus going to the website.”

So they opened it up. The recent update to the Politico app is jammed with all the news and blog categories from the site, adding in new areas like video, morning tipsheets (including Mike Allen’s Playbook), Arena, and the policy channel. (The app was rebuilt based on the codebase of Politico’s iPad app, which with the tablet’s larger screen size was built with more news streams than the iPhone version.) The new app also introduces push notifications for breaking news, which were absent before — readers were expected to sign up for email alerts — and added delayed reading features, including offline reading and article saving.

All the new features suggest Politico wants to create a more personally tailored news experience. Through the app, I could now choose just to keep updated on the 2012 election, Ben Smith’s new blog, and tip sheets on defense, lobbying, and technology. If I have no need for transportation policy news or Congress, the app won’t pull it in. Mannion said those updates in particular will be of value to a busy Washington readership that may find itself without a signal either in transit or a blacked out committee room.

“Getting on planes, the Metro — just being able to download content in the morning and make sure it’s available throughout your commute, that was the big reason,” Mannion said.

In moving towards personalization, the updated app slides away from a kind of utilitarian functionality that places a value on specifics and speed in information. If the app was “dumbed down” in anyway, it was in the service of information, the content, and getting it to readers quickly was what mattered. But Politico has built out a wealth of verticals its iPhone app debuted in February 2010, and if you’re the type of person that wants your mix of information on green energy loans and celeb spotting with presidential news, that stripped down delivery system becomes a hinderance.

The tech doesn’t matter to readers, but technology in service of their content does, Mannion said. Speed and context is still what matters for Politico, but also unobtrusive technology that doesn’t constrain your journalism. “Ease of use is the biggest improvement we made to the app itself, and I think it’s very well done,” he said. “But I think we just scratched the surface. There are more things that can be implemented from a personalization standpoint. That’s something we’re looking to provide our readers with in the future.”

POSTED     Dec. 6, 2011, 10 a.m.
Show comments  
Show tags
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Snapchat wants to slip a little news into teens’ social smartphone time
“A 19-year-old may not come across what the Iran deal is, but if it’s in their face in Snapchat, where they’re living all day, I kind of see that as a social good.”
The Worcester Sun wants to bootstrap paywalled hyperlocal digital into a Sunday print product
“We could use Sunday print to boost us into the stratosphere, to get us into a stable orbit where we can launch other things.”
Slate is taking steps to reduce its page load time by 75 percent
Slate Group vice chairman Dan Check discusses how Slate plans to speed up its site, how it’s thinking about ad blockers, and why it’s participating in platforms like Apple News.
What to read next
As giant platforms rise, local news is getting crushed
The quest for scale, driven by the distribution power of a few enormous technology platforms, is killing the business case for local news. Will anything take its place?
890What happened after 7 news sites got rid of reader comments
Recode, Reuters, Popular Science, The Week, Mic, The Verge, and USA Today’s FTW have all shut off reader comments in the past year. Here’s how they’re all using social media to encourage reader discussion.
699Facebook woos journalists with Signal, a dashboard to gather news across Facebook and Instagram
Signal helps journalists find, source, and embed content from Facebook and Instagram.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Investigative Reporting Workshop
Tampa Bay Times
The Bay Citizen
Fox News
The Philadelphia Inquirer & Daily News
The Nation
The Daily Show
USA Today