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Something to think about... / blog
Nuzzel, We Need A Better System! ... And The Industry Needs To Get Back To Work

Written by on January 18, 2017

As a media analyst, I follow a lot of people in the media industry. I don't really follow journalists as such, but I follow media executives, editors, analysts, professors, and similar.

In the past, following all these people was pretty great. My two main sources to follow stuff (Twitter and Feedly) gave me a very detailed and helpful picture of the concerns, the changes, and the focuses of the media world as a whole.

But then we got Trump, and now it's like the media industry has completely stopped thinking about itself as an industry and now we only have a Trump industry.

Let me give you just a simple example.

Back in 2016, I started using Nuzzel. Nuzzel is an amazing service that curates the most talked about issues within your own network. When I started using this, it was one of the absolute best newsletters I got every day. It focused on the most important issues yet varied across the whole industry.

But let me show you what it looked like this morning:

You see the problem here?

What used to be a great curation service that kept me up-to-date every day with what was happening inside the media industry has now turned into a curation service for "Trump said" articles, most of which have zero relevance to me as a media analyst.

Granted, Trump and the whole fascist movement is indeed a problem, but if I wanted to read about that I would just go to the Washington Post. And there is more to the world of media than this... a lot more.

This is useless to me.

I make this point for two reasons.

Firstly, I have a personal message to Nuzzel.

Hey Nuzzel!

Nuzzel, you are great and I love you. But you have been caught up in the same trap as all the other social aggregators in that you are only looking at the data and not the intent, nor the moment.

This might have been good enough in the past when you were first starting out, but today it's decimating your future ... just like it has decimated all other social services.

I'm at a point now where I'm seriously considering to stop using Nuzzel altogether, because you now provide me with more noise than value.

You need to change your system in a number of fundamental ways. You need to add some AI that will allow you to understand the focus, the context, and intent of each article that you link to. You then need to give people a way to say that 'I'm interested in this, but not in that'.

You also need to give people more nuances. People are not simpletons, we follow different things for different reasons. But you are adding all of those together into a single stream called "your top stories".

You need to look at what people are actually following. Understand why, and categorize it accordingly.

Finally, your "Friends of friends" feed is just crap. Not because of you but because of what it is. This is true for all social channels, and a big reason why social media is generally so noisy. This idea that 'friends of friends' is valuable is based on a world that doesn't exist.

As Facebook discovered back in 2016, there are only 3.56 degrees of separation between people online. What this means is that we only need to go three and a half steps away from ourselves to be exposed to every single topic in the world.

This is not useful.

Secondly, I have a message to my friends in the media industry:

Hey publishers/editors/journalists

One of the things that worries me deeply is that the trends point to a future for traditional journalists that isn't exactly good. Every trend we look at indicate a number of highly disruptive and fundamental changes for the future of media, changes where it is vital that traditional publishers adapt and embrace if they want to have a future.

On top of this, is the most important trend of all, which is that this entire transformation of media is very strongly defined by a generational shift.

What this means, in short, is that young people are consuming media in an entirely different way, with different demands, different needs, and for different reasons. And because it's generational, embracing this shift sooner rather than later is absolutely critical.

So what does that have to do with this article?

Well, we know that the traditional media industry is already 5-10 years behind the curve, so any further distractions are hugely damaging, but this is exactly what is happening right now.

Brexit in Europe and Trump in the US are two very important topics, and something that we as a society need to focus on. But, they are also topics that draw a lot of short term traffic because they are so controversial.

As a result, the media has been caught up in this Brexit/Trump traffic boost. A boost that has allowed you to temporarily continue doing the same thing as you have always done, and in the same way.

But this is a short term effect. Two to four years from now politics will get boring again, and suddenly the media will be back where they started two years ago. The result being that the generational shift will now have moved 4-6 years even further ahead, leaving old media behind.

Trump is a short term problem that we obviously need to cover for the public. But Trump isn't the future of media. All the disruptive trends that we saw back in 2014 are still here and just as powerful.

So, the media industry needs to stop being distracted by what Trump tweets in the morning, and get back to the real work of building a future for the media.

I'm not saying that we in the media don't have a responsibility to society and democracy. Of course we do. And the journalists covering politics are doing a good job at it. But what I am saying is that, as an industry, there is a difference between getting so distracted by the moment that we are getting dragged down with it (which is what is happening right now).

The public demands that we do things differently in the future. But all the media is doing now is the same thing as it has always done, because "OMG, Trump said..."

Let's get back to talking about the real future of media.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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