Inside the New York Times’ new push notifications team
The New York Times in September created a seven-person team to focus solely on messaging and push alerts. It is led by Andrew Phelps, who was formerly the Times’ iOS lead and now has the title of product director of messaging and push. Phelps, who oversees a lot of experiments in this area and works with news editors to push out alerts, sees 2016 as a big year for push.
“We used to be standing on a hill and shouting messages at people,” he said. Now, by comparison, he said, “There’s a growing number of users who only engage with us when we send a push.”
Growing that number is a battle, though. People may spend most of their mobile screen time on apps, but the vast majority of that time is spent on just five apps. Meantime, publishers that haven’t invested in mobile apps stand to be disaggregated by the big social platforms, said John Borthwick, CEO and co-founder of Betaworks, which builds and invests in products for the mobile Web including Digg. “The social platforms are doing a better job of integrating articles,” he said, while publishers are “losing control of their ability to fully monetise their audience.”
Here are some of the ways the Times is thinking anew about notifications.
Making pushes more personal
The push notification has great potential for personalisation and, in this way, the Times is joining other publishers in thinking beyond the breaking-news alert to how it can customise notifications to people’s interests. At the Times, personalisation can take a couple of forms. One is customising pushes to people based on reading history. If you read a lot of politics stories on the Times, for example, the Times can be reasonably sure its recent magazine profile of Donald Trump might appeal to you.
The Times is also testing pushes based on time of day and language. When President Obama renamed Alaska’s Mount McKinley to Denali, the Times pushed the story only to people in relevant time zones. With a magazine cover story on two sets of Bolivian twins, the Times sent a Spanish-language alert of a Spanish-language version of the story to people who had selected Spanish as their preferred language on their mobile. That group was far more likely to respond than those who got an English-language version, Phelps said.
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