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2020
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7

News apps fall further behind

“I am constantly let down by our industry’s inability to keep up, much less show any innovative leadership in mobile UX.”

As a modern human being with a computer in my pocket, I do a lot on my phone — including, unsurprisingly, writing the first draft of this piece across a few subway rides. And as someone who has spent years working in mobile and thinking about how to leverage the power of the device for news, I am constantly let down by our industry’s inability to keep up, much less show any innovative leadership in mobile UX.

Outside of news consumption, my device actually supercharges most experiences I have on my phone. When Seamless tells me “Here’s what people near you are eating,” it’s more relevant to me than anything I could have learned reading a restaurant’s reviews. Why doesn’t any news app tell me what people in my neighborhood are reading?

When I go on Instagram and like someone’s photo to tell them (and Instagram) that I enjoyed seeing it, I’m reminded that none of my news apps allow me to simply “like” content that has provided some value to me, and to personalize my experience as a result.

When people use Tinder to triage their options with simple swipes, they are, in the news equivalent, creating their own personalized stream. And while I’ve heard countless iterations of a “Tinder for news” concept, I’ve yet to see one implemented on a news app that can make personalization addictive.

The reason our industry hasn’t invested in adopting these best practices is clear: Mobile isn’t where the money is. Shrink down to a screen with less screen real estate for ads, then add a slow or intermittent data connection that makes premium ads less likely to load in time to make any money, and you have a fundamental imbalance that won’t to fix itself.

But good mobile UX is key to the goal most news organizations identify as a top priority these days — driving loyalty and retention as key to building a successful and sustainable business in the long term. Your app is where your most loyal users are, and they deserve a level of UX that matches what they see elsewhere on their phones.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that there is still some first-mover advantage to be gained here. But the flip side is also true: Those who fail to move will pay the price.

Greg Emerson is a mobile product specialist and product lead previously at HuffPost, The Wall Street Journal, and Newsday.

As a modern human being with a computer in my pocket, I do a lot on my phone — including, unsurprisingly, writing the first draft of this piece across a few subway rides. And as someone who has spent years working in mobile and thinking about how to leverage the power of the device for news, I am constantly let down by our industry’s inability to keep up, much less show any innovative leadership in mobile UX.

Outside of news consumption, my device actually supercharges most experiences I have on my phone. When Seamless tells me “Here’s what people near you are eating,” it’s more relevant to me than anything I could have learned reading a restaurant’s reviews. Why doesn’t any news app tell me what people in my neighborhood are reading?

When I go on Instagram and like someone’s photo to tell them (and Instagram) that I enjoyed seeing it, I’m reminded that none of my news apps allow me to simply “like” content that has provided some value to me, and to personalize my experience as a result.

When people use Tinder to triage their options with simple swipes, they are, in the news equivalent, creating their own personalized stream. And while I’ve heard countless iterations of a “Tinder for news” concept, I’ve yet to see one implemented on a news app that can make personalization addictive.

The reason our industry hasn’t invested in adopting these best practices is clear: Mobile isn’t where the money is. Shrink down to a screen with less screen real estate for ads, then add a slow or intermittent data connection that makes premium ads less likely to load in time to make any money, and you have a fundamental imbalance that won’t to fix itself.

But good mobile UX is key to the goal most news organizations identify as a top priority these days — driving loyalty and retention as key to building a successful and sustainable business in the long term. Your app is where your most loyal users are, and they deserve a level of UX that matches what they see elsewhere on their phones.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that there is still some first-mover advantage to be gained here. But the flip side is also true: Those who fail to move will pay the price.

Greg Emerson is a mobile product specialist and product lead previously at HuffPost, The Wall Street Journal, and Newsday.

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