Four Kitchens

Online publishing priorities: thoughts from ONA19

3 Min. ReadEvents

The Four Kitchens team is back from the ONA19 event — and yes, we had a great time! Between talking with publishers and newsroom representatives, presenting a panel on Machine Learning (ML) and its growing role in content creation and curation, and demonstrating our experiment, we had plenty to keep us busy.

Now that we’re back in the kitchen, we’re parsing a lot of amazing information. And we’re talking about the products and processes that are most likely to benefit or influence web design and content creation over the next year.

Front and center: Personalization and machine learning

We weren’t surprised to see that many attendees were as interested in ML as we are. The “Personalizing News for Readers” panel, which included Four Kitchens’ Mike Minecki and Grace Stoeckle, was standing room only. The conversations afterward reiterated the excitement around the topic. We talked with many niche news organizations, most focused on local news or even one news niche (e.g., crime) within a local community, who are severely understaffed and under-resourced. These teams naturally want to know how can AI and ML can help them, and whether the technology is something they can access. 

Grace Stoeckle and Mike Minecki on the “Personalizing News for Readers” panel at ONA19

One of the most interesting revelations from these conversations: Organizations are seeing the potential of using ML to improve the personalization of email newsletters. 

“We spoke to one publisher who publishes an email newsletter focused on local crime in LA,” Grace said. “Newsletters like this offer powerful ways to reach readers — and are an excellent playground for experimenting with personalization and localization.”

Mike noted that many publishers are just becoming aware of ML’s potential. “Most publishers are unaware of what’s possible today with machine learning and natural language processing, for fractions of a penny per query. Many have a metadata gap that prevents them from optimizing personalization — and ML can help solve that problem.”

Presentation slide showing the Sophi tool created by The Globe and Mail
The Globe and Mail‘s Sophi tool

We also saw several other sessions and demos that illustrated the ways that publishers are using ML. One that caught our attention: Toronto’s The Globe and Mail demonstrated Sophi, its homegrown ML-powered global optimization platform. Sophi enables The Globe to maximize both ad and subscriber revenue, addresses opportunity cost, and helps to remove promotional bias from both native and wire content. This is the kind of tool that we’re excited about helping clients build for their own content hubs!

A matter of trust

Although personalization and its intersection with AI and ML were dominant technology topics at the conference, we also heard a lot of people talking about trust between the media and readers. Specifically, content creators want to know: How do we build — and repair — reader trust in the information we publish online? And once we gain that trust, how do we maintain it?

Grace noted that GDPR is forcing organizations to handle data differently, but that this challenge is also an opportunity to establish trust. “GDPR provides an opportunity for publishers to be transparent with how they handle user data, and to build trust with readers,” she said.

From analysis to understanding

Many media outlets are also struggling to figure out the best pricing and subscription models for online news. Trying to view and understand their sales funnel and conversions in an effort to get this equation right is creating a huge strain. Most simply don’t have all the tools they need to translate site analytics and metrics into a thorough understanding of visitor behavior. (The desire to use that data to make informed decisions to improve the online experience was one impetus for The Globe to build Sophi.)

The connecting thread between all these topics? Publishers want and need help understanding readers’ needs and decision processes. The importance of the user experience is something we focus on at Four Kitchens, so we weren’t surprised to hear that it’s a priority across the online publishing industry, as well. 

Are you as interested as we are in the potential of ML to help create a powerful UX? Contact Four Kitchens. We’d love to talk with you about the possibilities.