The way we consume news has changed drastically over the last decade. The rise of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter in convergence with the rise of mobile app development has fundamentally altered our news consumption habits, and not always for the better. We take a look at what developers are doing to take us back to a simpler time.

By Zafar Jamati

A decade ago, before the ubiquity of smartphones, you might have sat down with a newspaper and a coffee every morning, reading from start to finish or from sports, backwards. This would be a finite reading experience, giving you a good balance of deep analysis, as well as news in brief. After reading for maybe half an hour, you would feel reasonably well informed on the current affairs of the day.

This feeling of satisfaction has systematically eroded in recent years. Instead, a new world of instant news, real-time communication and an endless feed of updates has opened up to us. No matter how much we read, there's always more. And whilst the availability of a wider news pool is beneficial for society as a whole, it can prove overwhelming for the average reader.

  • In 2013, 36 million adults (73 per cent) in Great Britain accessed the Internet every day, 20 million more than in 2006, when directly comparable records began.
  • Access to the Internet using a mobile phone more than doubled between 2010 and 2013, from 24 per cent to 53 per cent.
  • In 2013, 72 per cent of all adults bought goods or services online, up from 53 per cent in 2008.
  • In Great Britain, 21 million households (83 per cent) had Internet access in 2013.
  • Broadband fibre optic or cable Internet connections are used by 42 per cent of households, up from 30 per cent in 2012.

ONS (2013), Internet Access - Households and Individuals

The rise of mobile
As smartphones, tablets and portable computing have taken off - aided by the improved wireless networking in our towns and cities - so has the success of social media platforms. News can be consumed any place, any time and from anywhere in the world.

Twitter now often breaks news before big news agencies. The Arab spring in Egypt, the capture of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, even Michael Jackson’s death were all stories that cemented the convergence of mobile and social.

Many companies have sought to capitalise on this new found gold rush. Google reader was an app that quickly rose to prominence as a clean and modern looking news aggregator. However the flood of competing apps soon led to its demise and withdrawal from the market.

Other popular apps for iOS and Android include Flipboard, Feedly, Poke and Pocket. Summly, an app developed by 15 year old British computer programmer, Nick D'Aloisio, went onto be purchased by Yahoo for $30m in 2011.

The unique thing about Summly was the algorithm developed by D'Aloisio, which is able to summarise and aggregate a finite list of the most popular and relevant news stories.

Similarly, Facebook yesterday purchased a news conversation start-up called 'Branch' for a reported $15m. Having been in development for nearly a year, it’s widely expected that Facebook will soon announce a Flipboard style news app, allowing users to comment and socially interact with news items as they do with their everyday updates. If nothing else, this will further integrate news consumption into our everyday lives.

So what's the big story?
The moral of this story for companies is the need to know where to look for customers. The nature of advertising has changed. The trend is moving towards providing content and news that is free to the end user, but contains targeted ads. This monetisation allows developers to get a market share, often reverting to a premium paid app once a customer is locked in.

Interaction with products and services is also travelling in a similar vein. The Google Nexus One smartphone was first announced on Twitter before any other news platform. Customers can now make or break a product instantly, as soon as it is announced.

It seems the traditional control of marketing and communications on product and service launches may be diminishing. The question is whether our addiction is as well...

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