10 Tech Trends That Will Change Content Creation

By Yael Grauer October 22nd, 2014

Rapid changes in the digital ecosystem can catch even the most tech-savvy content creator off guard. Luckily, Webbmedia Group CEO Amy Webb presented her seventh annual “Top 10 Tech Trends for Journalists” at the Online News Association conference in Chicago. And since Webbmedia focuses on emerging technology trends to prepare their clients for future business disruption, anyone wanting to stay ahead of the curve would be wise to listen up.

Here’s our recap of how innovation is changing journalism for better (and occasionally worse):

Trend #1: The proliferation of wearables

We’ve heard of Google Glass, Pebble, and AppleWatch, but these are just a few examples of what’s on the market. WebbMedia is tracking 253 different wearable devices including lactic acid tracker sleevesperformance apparel with EMG, heart-rate and breathing sensors, Melon’s brain-tracking headband, and Fujitsu’s smart glove.

In a post reprinted by Nieman Lab, Quickish founder Dan Shanoff points out that wearable devices will lead to a new kind of journalism, which he refers to as “glance journalism,” since Glance is the name of the Apple Watch feature that lets users skim through ultra-brief news alerts. As these devices become more mainstream, news platforms will likely evolve to accommodate users by adopting Glance-optimized headlines.

Trend #2: Optimizing for behavior and device

Content creators often focus on making sure their stories are accessible through various devices. Letting readers view a story on multiple devices is great, but tailoring that story for each device is crucial.

For example, consider Circa, a mobile app that allows users to sign up for daily news briefs and bite-sized updates. Instead of simply making sure the same content is viewable on multiple devices, more publishers will study user behavior and adapt accordingly.

Trend #3: Algorithmic curation in publishing

Algorithmic curation can help content creators decide how and when to present content.

A phone’s accelerometer can measure the user’s speed, and a gyroscope can track location, so it’s possible for a device to determine whether someone’s driving, jogging, walking, or flying cross-country. Publishers can harness that information for smart segmentation. For instance, a news app could send audio stories rather than a link to a longform article to someone on a jog.

But speed and location aren’t the only factors that can be used to modify content. The user’s level of engagement, current activity, and past behavior can also be taken into account for curation. To see this dynamic in action, check out Reverb and Nuzzel, two apps that create personalized news streams.

Trend #4: Algorithmic curation and bot helpers

Not only does Nuzzel help reporters find stories their friends are sharing, it can also help them see what’s influencing sources or competitors if their feeds are public. This tool, and others like it, can help users find and curate information more quickly.

But that’s not the only way algorithms can assist in reporting. In fact, Los Angeles Times journalist Ken Schwencke already created a bot that can write stories for him. Bots like this can handle grunt work, like writing drab recaps of earning reports, so journalists have more time to do the work that no algorithm could replicate—such as interviewing sources or handling on-the-ground reporting.

Trend #5: Research via cognitive computing

Machines can also aid users with real-time research, taking things a step beyond the aforementioned bots. Take Emu Messenger, an Android app with a built-in assistant that offers information and suggestions based on the personal interest of the user. As Techcrunch’s Sarah Perez writes, this type of tool works as an “artificial intelligence engine that understands the context of your messages in order to help you take action upon them.”

Trend #6: Ambient proximity

Wireless transmitters such as BLE beacons and NFC tags allow users to consume content based on their surroundings. I am personally fond of the Field Trip app, which pulls up information about historic places and events, art, museums, and restaurants based on proximity. These features can help with hyperlocal reporting.

Also, Estimote Beacons and Stickers, as well as other nearables, are small sensors that can provide context, micro-location, and other information to smart devices.

Trend #7: Virtual reality for news

Immersive storytelling with tools such as Oculus Rift is all the rage, and new headsets will be coming soon. Market penetration may take several years, since adoption is slow for these types of devices, but immersive, reactive news stories using VR tools are on the horizon. The Des Moines Register‘s Harvest of Change project is one high-profile example.

Trend #8: Ephemeral content

Content created to disappear is gaining popularity, both due to privacy concerns and because content that doesn’t last forever is one solution for a cluttered data stream.

Multiple apps and tools have popped up offering encrypted photographs, anonymous chat messages, and other self-destructing missives. However, Webb warns that it can be difficult for content creators to write retractions for information that’s no longer there—especially when the retractions themselves would disappear.

Trend #9: Digital security and privacy

It’s been two years since tech journalist Mat Honan penned a brilliant piece about getting hacked for Wired‘s Gadget Lab. More recently, intimate photographs of celebrities were stolen from their devices and released publicly, and many were surprised not only by the iCloud mobile breach, but also by Apple’s reaction. Webb, who had her phone tapped and was followed when she was a reporter in China, recommends taking measures to protect your digital privacy.

Although there is no magic bullet, she believes spending a couple of hours getting acquainted with encrypted email using PGP is a good start. She also recommends Blackphone, a smartphone built with privacy and security in mind. (However, it’s worth noting that security researchers have found the phone’s baseband to be a security flaw.)

Another great tool for newsrooms is the open-source whistleblower submission-system Secure Drop, which is used by the BBC. And Webb also mentioned Internet Bug Bounty, a system for benevolent hackers to point out security flaws they find online before black-hat hackers can exploit them.

Trend #10: Giving data science a seat at the table

One of Webb’s presentation slides reads: “It’s possible to protect the newsroom’s integrity while ensuring a growing audience for the news business.” Understanding reader behavior and responding accordingly is just smart data science. Everyone from BuzzFeed to The New York Times is doing it, and in BuzzFeed’s case, it led to a 244 percent increase in readers from 2013 to 2014.

To get started, Webb recommends analyzing six months’ worth of data, breaking down content by theme, device, referral traffic, and time of day it was consumed. There are plenty of flashy gadgets and apps out there, but succeeding in the world of journalism still starts with having a firm grasp on what your audience wants.

For more on Webb’s fascinating trend presentation, check out her slides here.

Image by Avegant
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