Wednesday, May 21, 2014

CJR: "How algorithms decide the news you see"

From the Columbia Journalism Review:
Homepage traffic for news sites continues to decrease. This trend is the result of an “if the news is important, it will find me” mentality that developed with the rise of social media, when people began to read links that their friends and others in their networks recommended. Thus, readers are increasingly discovering news through social media, email, and reading apps.

Publishers are well aware of this, and have tweaked their infrastructure accordingly, building algorithms that change the site experience depending on where a reader enters from.

While publishers view optimizing sites for the reading and sharing preferences of specific online audiences as a good thing, because it gets users to content they are likely to care about quickly and efficiently, that kind of catering may not be good for readers.

“We can actually act on the psychological predisposition to just expose ourselves to things that we agree with,” explains Nick Diakopoulos, research fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, where he recently published a report on algorithmic accountability reporting. “And what the algorithms do is they throw gasoline on the fire.”

Visitors who enter BuzzFeed via Pinterest, for instance, see a larger “Pin It” button, no Twitter share button, and a “hot on Pinterest” module. Medium, launched less than two years ago by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, recommends content to readers via an intelligent algorithm primarily based on how long users spend reading articles. Recommended content sidebars on any news site are calculated via algorithm, and Facebook has a recommended news content block that takes into account previous clicks and offers similar links....MORE