Why Polaris Media is working to ensure that all its publications use personalization technology

14 Jun 2017 | By Adam Walhout

Jørgen Frøland, Project Manager at Polaris Media

Polaris Media has been using Cxense technology since 2012, and in 2014 they recruited Jørgen Frøland specifically to work with personalization technology. They do not develop their own algorithms, but instead work at being good at using best-of-breed solutions.

iTromsø was the first publication to launch a fully-personalized mobile homepage. Altaposten was the first to launch a personalized front page across all devices.

Frøland says that the challenge initially was to gain understanding of and confidence in the technology. The challenge now is to optimize the way it's used. According to him, there is major interest amongst editors in using the technology.

"We’re working actively to help the media use personalization technology, but the way we've done it so far is to show what the technology can do, and help with implementation and testing," says Frøland.

The football reader

The biggest challenge when it comes to personalization of front pages is that the small newspapers do not have enough stories to customize them for each the reader. If you are a typical 'football reader', the risk will therefore be that the articles the newspaper has to choose from are outdated.

Frøland explains that they are experimenting and testing what works best for each publisher.

"But given that Altaposten is a small paper, does it work for them?"

"Not as well as for iTromsø. We have to continue experimenting and looking back to see what works. Personalization is not either or, but yes and no. There are a number of solutions that can work and we could have done it differently with Altaposten.

For example, Addressavisen uses the technology on their front page to present typical 'magazine stories' and longer articles they think will be suitable for you. And 'read also' stories have been personalized, depending on whether you access the article via Facebook or the paper's own front page."

Focal point

A study performed by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism which shows that Norwegians are among the most concerned in Europe when it comes to personalized news, is something Frøland is aware of.

A master's thesis by an Norwegian University of Science and Technology student shows that many Norwegians are afraid of being uninformed, and thus have less to discuss with others.

"The media are a focal point in our society. We read and discuss the same stories. The ultimate consequence of personalization could be that we have too many different things to discuss."

But Frøland reassures us that because the volume of news in Norway is so small, that's not going to happen. Nevertheless, he intends to keep that in mind.

"We must not break down the role of the media in society."

Intensive work

Schibsted has also worked with personalization for some time, but has intensified efforts within the last year. "This is a field that will be given high priority moving forwards," says Product Manager Hans Martin Cramer in an email.

"Is your plan that all Schibsted publications will use the new technology?"

"It's important to stipulate that no single technology is under consideration, but a range of different technologies and methods. Our ambition is to enable all our publications to use personalization when relevant.

Several of our publications already work with different forms of personalization. For example: Aftenposten personalizes recommendations on its article pages and the front page. Part of the VG mobile app can be customized by users and several of the publishers have various personalization services linked to their loyalty programs."

According to Cramer, their experiences have been more than positive. Feedback from readers is that they perceive this as a better and more relevant product than before.

Customized for each reader

Each publisher has its own editorial and commercial product, which is extremely important for Schibsted to protect. The editors define how the technology can best be utilized in their publication and for their readers. In other words, each publisher owns its own algorithm, but the technology that algorithm runs on is common. 

"Our readers are the most important resource we have, and if we fail to adapt our product to them, we will be exposed." To continue to be relevant moving forwards, Schibsted is now building a common platform for content production and distribution. Part of the platform includes services for personalization.

Cramer explains that the big problem is not adapting the technology, which to all intents and purposes is universal, but having consistent data on which to build solutions. This is where the platform comes in as a vital part of the puzzle to be able to scale the technology across publishers and various publications.


Social responsibility

He explains that many of the problems related to personalization are openly discussed in the media and amongst users in general. This has been extra relevant over the last six months linked to the US presidential election and the discussion on Facebook's role in the dissemination of opinion-making content of the dubious sort.

Cramer says that corporate responsibility in its editorial products is the key principle for Schibsted's publications, and the publicity agenda is to close the gap between what the readers know and what they ought to know. The same principal also applies to how they work with personalization. Schibsted believe that correct use of the technology can allow them to fulfil their corporate responsibility even better.

"For example, if a reader only opens a publication twice a week, there are many important and relevant stories he misses out on between his two visits. Personalization technology will help us find those stories, and thus contribute towards a better-informed audience."

He goes on to explain that readers can find more easily-accessible background material. Readers can get a better customized front page; stories they have read and finished with need no longer be shown every time they open the publication. They get easier access to non-time critical stories without having to search through the archives to call them up.

This article was originally published in Norwegian on Journalisten.no.

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