Engagement Publishing

The Financial Times is using gamification to boost subscriber engagement

The Financial Times recently launched a new tool that uses gamification principles to keep readers engaged. The tool—Knowledge Builder—that FT initially introduced to 13% of its subscribers base, helps readers track the amount of information they have consumed on a topic, and recommends articles.

According to James Webb, Group Product Manager of Financial Times, internal research suggested that readers find it tough to assess the depth of their knowledge on a topic based on what they have read on the site. “FT subscribers are knowledge-hungry, but sometimes they struggle with context, knowing what to read next and why. Think for a moment – what if you could somehow introduce some aspect of tracking in the news-reading experience?” he asked during the launch. “It’s about putting people in control of their knowledge-building process by allowing them to track progress on topics,” he added.

With Knowledge Builder, the FT aims to offer its subscribers a more ‘satisfying read’ and make it easier for them to find the content they need. It’s a point-scoring system where each article has a certain number of points that are displayed at the top of the page. At the bottom, there is a progress bar indicating how much a reader has learned on that particular topic.

“Filter-bubble bursting”

The Knowledge Builder scores articles based on a couple of points:

  1. How well an article represents the FT’s coverage on a specific topic.
  2. How much new information it presents to the reader based on the FT articles they have already read on the topic.

So if an article contains a lot of information that a reader has already consumed before, it would have a lower score for that particular reader. These criteria will also direct readers that are new to a topic, to content that covers key aspects of the subject in more details.

This is our filter-bubble-bursting element of Knowledge Builder. It guides the user away from content they have already covered and toward themes they haven’t explored before.

James Webb, Group Product Manager, Financial Times.

According to Greg Harwood, Director at Simon-Kucher & Partners, a strategy and marketing consultancy, most subscription publishers offer recommendations based on reader preferences, but the FT’s Knowledge Builder recommendation engine is unique because of it’s gamification and visualization element.

The majority of recommendation systems use reader-based signals in order to make suggestions about similarities in content consumption patterns across user segments. This machine learning approach takes it to the next level.

Greg Harwood, Director at Simon-Kucher & Partners 

The tool was funded by Google’s Digital News initiative and developed by the FT and technology start-up Crux. The company uses metadata from FT articles to quantify knowledge and create a knowledge base around topics.

More interactivity + Better engagement + Lower churn

The FT will be running initial tests until the end of the year to understand how its readers are using the Knowledge Builder to track topics and build knowledge.

“We will be tracking article click-through rates on recommendations versus latest stories, completion rates, the number of stories a user reads in one visit and whether visual cues on articles will help engage lower-engagement users.

If we can get disengaged users to visit one extra time every 90 days and read just one extra article on a topic they are already engaged on, this could be worth up to £1.5 million a year,” says Webb. They are also working out how much additional ad revenue this may deliver if the trial is successful.

The FT has been relentless about driving engagement to fight subscriber churn as it moves towards its next milestone of 1 million paying readers. Over the past 2-3 years, it has been focused on getting subscribers to use its products as much as possible. The publisher measures everything from the sign-up of trial users to the speed of its mobile site against the effect it will have on engagement.

Lately, it has started placing added emphasis on encouraging more content consumption. The Knowledge Builder is its latest effort in that direction. While these are early days and he could not share figures, Webb said that they have found that articles having the Knowledge Builder component have higher completion rates. Even the median number of pages per visit of articles that have the tool embedded is double compared to standard articles.

“Works well for publishers who have reams of content”

Gamification does help make content more interactive and thus stimulate engagement. According to Rick Bolton, Senior Consultant at IndustryMasters that develops and delivers scalable digital learning solutions to global companies, “The idea behind gamification is to bring game design principles to engage publication audiences in a non-traditional way.

These principles, broadly speaking, are engagement and interactivity with content. This can work well for publishers who obviously have reams of content and are constantly looking for new ways to increase engagement with their content, promote interactivity among their audience, and preferably, monetize the activity as well.”


Download WNIP’s new Media Moments 2018 report, which dives deeper into this year’s developments in publishing, and looks at what opportunities 2019 could usher in. The report is free and can be downloaded here.


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