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Aug. 13, 2015, 9:35 a.m.
Mobile & Apps

Push it: How The Wall Street Journal plans to make its push alerts more personal

“You’re going to see this evolve over time, as we can get more targeted information out to people,” executive mobile editor David Ho said.

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of stories on how news organizations manage their mobile news alerts. Check in each day this week to see how The New York Times, Breaking News, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and the Detroit Free Press decide which news warrants a push notification, and learn about the process each goes through to send alerts out to their readers.

The business-minded users who download The Wall Street Journal’s mobile apps care when Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen says it’s “likely” that the Fed will raise interest rates this year, or that China beat expectations for economic growth in the second quarter.

It makes sense, then, that the Journal sends out push alerts on stories like those. But as the paper expands to a more general-interest audience, executive mobile editor David Ho, said the Journal is looking to offer more personalization — so users who are interested in more niche business and finance-related alerts, for example, will be able to get them.

“You’re going to see this evolve over time, as we can get more targeted information out to people,” Ho told me.

Here’s a lightly edited and condensed transcript of what Ho told me about the Journal’s approach to notifications and how it plans to increase personalization.

When it comes to push alerts and notifications, the biggest challenge for news organizations is relevance. We need to make sure the news we send to people matters to them. It needs to be the right news at the right time in the right place for the right person. When you vibrate someone’s pocket, the news better be important.

Not every alert that posts to our website gets sent through to apps on phones, tablets, and watches. There’s a different news threshold for different platforms. Very often it’s a case-by case decision made by an editor.

There’s a fine line between relevance and annoyance, and finding that balance is really a challenge for all news organizations. How do you get people the news that they need without bothering them with unnecessary news, so that they don’t tune it all out?

Like everything in mobile journalism, it’s this balance between curation and automation — using really effective human news judgment combined with really good algorithms and other automation as well.

A lot of these decisions need to be made very, very quickly when news breaks. The same people who man our News Hub, our real-time news desk, are there and able to make the call about whether an alert goes out to a website, how it goes out to social media, how it goes out to mobile. It’s a very integrated workflow, so there isn’t a lag between platforms.

For the most part, these alerts are human, driven by editorial decisions. But we’re also putting a lot of thought and energy into customized and personalized alerts that rely on algorithms. Technology is getting increasingly personal and increasingly contextual, and anticipates your needs and your behavior depending on what you’re doing. That same kind of thinking needs to be applied to notifications.

We’re working to bring people more customization options and more targeted options in our apps. We’re moving toward a place where alerts are targeted for different people on different platforms and different devices.

WSJAlert2WSJAlert1It’s an interesting challenge. The Journal, traditionally, was known as a business-oriented publication, and while it still has that core business audience and very strong business coverage, now it’s much broader than that.The Journal has become a general-interest news publication that covers all the news all over the world. But there’s still that core audience that needs more specific business information. We’re going to be investing even more in that.

That’s part of the targeting and customization [we’re doing]: offering the people who are interested in business news and the markets that information, while everyone else doesn’t necessarily have to [see it]. You’re going to see this evolve over time, as we can get more targeted information out to people. The total volume of alerts is likely going to increase, but the trick is that every person doesn’t get every alert. They get just the ones that matter to them.

POSTED     Aug. 13, 2015, 9:35 a.m.
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