What The Guardian has learned trying to build a more intelligent mobile story format

Over the past several months, the Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab has introduced a new format for mobile: the Smarticle. They have now run three Smarticle experiments, and learned a lot about how readers like the format and what topics work well in it.

The Smarticle is a story format designed for mobile that aims to meet readers where they are in their knowledge of a developing story by only presenting them with the elements that are most useful to them. It works like this:

  • A story is broken down into its core elements, which are displayed as a series of blocks.
  • When a reader first visits the page, the blocks contain only the most fundamental story details up to that point.
  • As the reader returns, an algorithm determines what should appear for each user. For these first three experiments, the algorithm took into account what someone had read on their last visit, as well as the importance of each new story development.
  • Users who read the story on a Chrome browser have the option to subscribe to notifications, which are sent when there is a critical mass of updates or a major development in the story.

Reaction to the Guardian’s three Smarticle tests run so far has been positive. Surveyed readers say they found the format a more useful way to follow stories than through reading multiple articles, and the majority also said they would like to follow other stories in a similar format.

The Guardian is now continuing the research and development with a particular focus on ‘deciding what elements to resurface through the algorithm and when to bring them back’.

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