Sensor data and ambient news

If we are to believe data journalist and data consultant Marco Maas, the future of journalism lies in our surroundings.

Marco Maas and xMinutes believes that ambient news will have a key role for the future of news.

Most of us would probably not spend the profits from a few successful Bitcoin sales on equipping our homes with various sensors, but that is in fact what German data journalist Marco Maas did some time ago. In order to develop a new ground breaking way of providing news services, he also gave up most of his privacy, and allowed his colleagues to follow the data collected by the sensors in his home.

What Maas and his colleagues at the Hamburg based company xMinutes hope to achieve is a news service, which based on different data sets provides a selection of the most interesting news for its users.

“Our aim is to implement a context API, which can be used by ourselves but also publishers”, Maas says.

Currently xMinutes works together with the news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur DPA analysing news produced by the agency and building an understanding of the news cycle.

“We are in the beginning of the process, but we can already tell that a lot of content can be left out. We are far away from our machines understanding the real topics, but this data helps us identify the content which can be left out.”

Another feature xMinutes is contemplating to develop is an added filter, which places various news outlets and journalists on a political spectrum.

“Although actually we have the most promising results from the simplest algorithmic solutions. So if a user is interested in politics, we just give them more news about politics in general.”

“I don’t think publishers with a regional concentration will gain success by simply launching an app. Their business model will have to include getting their content to other apps, and places where the attention already is”, Maas says.

He recommends making the content as portable as possible, publishing the content on as many platforms as possible, and trying to be as relevant as possible to the users. Maas also predicts that the Google assistant will become the most powerful platform.

“We just don’t see a point in trying to compete against Google or Facebook. You can certainly try, but I think we should try to focus on other topics, and work for a long term solution, which can then be incorporated to those big platforms as well.”

One of the insights that he has gained during the process is the importance of meta data.

“If you have a lot of meta data in your articles, even Facebook and such can understand your content better, and give it greater visibility. At least in Germany this is a problem, not having compatible meta data.”

xMinutes is also confident that so called ambient news will have a key role for the future of news. By ambient news Maas refers to the possibility of incorporating news or other preferred content in our surrounding.

“It can be speakers, displays, or something else”, Maas explains.

A key finding after meeting with a test group of fourteen people was that the audience does not want to be disturbed.

“They only wanted information when it is important for them, such as traffic information on their way to work.”

The test group also revealed that the audience is willing to give out their personal information to a news service if they receive something beneficial in return.

“If our system could give personalised suggestions based on what the user had been reading throughout the day, they were fine with giving their location and other information to us. The discussion within journalism however seems to be that the readers are not willing to give out their data.”

Maas encourages news organisations to a dialogue with the audience and users in order to truly understand their needs.

“Google and Apple are looking at the context, but journalists are not. We should look at new situations where our content can be interesting, say bathroom reading in the morning and short news breaks during the day.”

He says there are a thousand places to reach an audience – we just have not thought about them yet.


Text: Laura Klingberg




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