The problem is not having more data. The problem is having the right, actionable data and the context of its provenance. But publishers see so much of their relationships mediated by a few walled gardens that their access to understanding who their users are, what they read, what they watch, when they do it, and what they do next is only what they can parse in the brief moment in time when they see a session longer than one content page — or if that cookie returns often enough for data to become meaningful over time.
The path to personalization, especially personalization steeped in journalistic ethos, requires access to holistic data about users that extends beyond the borders of the news organization’s platform. The path to making smart strategic choices about what to cover, and where user demand is, requires this data as well.
In 2017, I think we will see a greater push toward the acquisition of this user data. Some collective organizing from the industry with a few players who have access to a more detailed picture than what any individual publisher can obtain on their own, feels like an organic next step. And other sources of data also exist — among them CrowdTangle (at least pre-acquisition by Facebook) or my own employer Taboola — that share editorial insights about user behavior for social traffic (CrowdTangle) or from the open web (Taboola). It is up to publishers to decide whether they will seek out this data, from their own data stores but also from other audience acquisition gateways. It is also up to them to see how much they can leverage it to make smart editorial and business decisions about how to grow their audience meaningfully.
As we look at 2016, the year of wildfire fake news, and ask ourselves what we can do collectively to curtail this scourge, we have to remember that furthering the distribution of quality information is ultimately the most meaningful improvement we can make to this issue. Good user data is an important enabler, and in this respect, its usefulness extends beyond smart business, but indeed, to benefiting society as a whole.
Ariane Bernard is the editorial products lead at Taboola.