May 21, 2014

The New York Times internal report on innovation, leaked last week in the aftermath of Jill Abramson’s exit, has set news innovation circles abuzz and is filled with many observations and recommendations that argue for more structure-centric journalism – including structure based on story. The business and product case for news producers to extend the ‘value half-life’ of their journalism by adding structure certainly seems to be building rapidly, and for a very comprehensive treatment of that phenomena I highly recommend Reg Chua’s Structured Journalism blog.

Structured Stories fits well with this increasing attention to structure in news production. The technology can be interpreted as a generalized mechanism for structuring news, enabling the practical application of structure beyond one-off domains like homicides, recipes, etc. to include news of any kind, in any domain. Such a generalized mechanism for fully structuring news, if productized and if successful, could be economically positive for news producers by somewhat restoring the old ‘news bundle’ in the form of interconnected and proprietary data.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that news production is just one side of the news ecosystem and that massive challenges also exist in the consumption of news. These challenges have been well described by Tony Haile, the C.E.O. of Chartbeat, in a recent article informed by Chartbeat’s unique view into the click-by-click realities of digital media consumption – realities that include 55% of clicks resulting in less than 15 seconds of user attention, and that show no discernible relationship between the sharing of content and user attention to that content. This describes a media ecosystem in which news consumers are expected to act as their own ‘do-it-yourself’ content editors; to pick through, assess and accept or reject content, one article at a time, every day. This is, as software developers say, ‘suboptimal’.

Structured Stories can help here too. By converting news into a ‘permanent record’, accessible on the consumer’s own terms and timeframe, and by providing a naturally intuitive framework by which news can be accessed, navigated and queried, Structured Stories can provide consumers with a new editorial structure for news. Replacing the text article with the structured narrative as the primary ‘unit of news’ would ground every news event as a URI on the semantic web, and therefore would provide a permanence and a degree of interconnection that is inconceivable within the current article-centric news ecosystem. Structure adds editorial value to information, and structures stories can add editorial value to news.

Update: I am currently heads-down on API design and architecture, and I hope to post a detailed technical description of that in the next few weeks. Also, I received feedback suggesting that an overview presentation describing the Structured Stories concept would be useful in interpreting the demo, and I should have that available soon.