2015 led me deeper into the mix of prototyping for newsrooms — organizing two Hacking Journalism conferences and focusing Embedly towards a publisher’s bottom line. Amidst discussions around ideas and strategy, most initiatives must still clearly address pageviews and recirculation.
One now-ubiquitous technique to increase recirculation is lists — top, trending, recommended, related — all around an article. When effective, these boost views and cultivate loyalty. But when enough articles remain unclicked (sometimes side by side with ads), that real estate reduces to noise. The sidebar and footer are becoming ignorable.
What is that balance between driving recirculation and reducing noise? Social platforms are quick to find solutions here. They have more resources to explore and build solutions for retention. 2015 revealed a new interface pattern to solve recirculation and noise — active recommendations.
Active recommendations are triggered by a reader’s action, and consider the stages of the reading experience. A few recent examples include:
The power of gradually revealing the recommendations is that (a) they are introduced only when interest is expressed via the trigger, and (b) they are shown after the initial media so as to not interfere. Taking reader interaction, location, and timing into account moves the recommendations further from noise and towards value. For a parallel, consider the update to infinite scroll: The end of one article triggers the next one to load. The context increases views of an article, which otherwise would be ignored in the sidebar.
It is a subtle, and concrete shift. Pages look back on the reader, seeing to a finer resolution the moments of the reading experience — start, scroll down, scroll up, play, watching, finish — and dynamically adjust. To design these interactions, the questions become:
Active recommendations focus on how recommendations are served, but the quality of recommendations should not be ignored. With poor quality, the new interactions and real estate will become just as annoying and eventually useless as popups.
Validated by social platforms, active recommendations will spread further to publishers in 2016. Nuanced reader actions and dynamic UI will provide opportunities for boosting recirculation. Personally, I’ve been researching and working on active recommendations centered around video.
In 2016, watch how YouTube responds to Facebook’s video recirculation, and how Snapchat introduces discoverability. Watch articles begin to react to readers, serving content at just the right moment.