Scott Karp wonders if news is a fundamentally shared experience, and muses that "purely personalised news may be too much control, a slippery slope that leads to solipsism" -- an argument made by Cass Sunstein, on which I have written before. I agree, but I think the risk of this happening is not that great.
The orthodoxy says that we consume news to know facts about the world we live in (or the industry we work in) so that we can act intelligently. But the need to read what others are reading is also a basic, primary need - even if the 'facts' themselves are of no use beyond that.
You could say there are two kinds on news consumption:
- Informational consumption - e.g. when a stockbroker needs to be across what a firm is doing. Here sharedness is unnecessary and sometimes undesirable (although, interestingly, it is sometimes mandated by law)
- Ritual consumption - e.g. when I read the paper over coffee to be 'up to date'
Of course all news consumption is a mix of both of these types: we do get the odd useful fact from reading newspapers, and stockbrokers also need to be and feel part of a community of peers. But I suspect the second type is far more important in accounting of everyday general-purpose news.
If right, this means that there is an enduring consumer demand for something shared, and that personalisation will never fully take off in general-purpose news services. It also means that the 'static' nature of much of today's web may be a happy accident and an enduring feature: for all the talk about web 2.0 Ajax magic, the web is a shared space inasmuch as what I see is what you see (see my earlier post on this).
It also means that part of the consumer demand for news is about knowing not what happened, but what are the stories, the headlines that make up today's news. That demand cannot be answered by a linear narrative (a story) but by a selection, a list, a programme that tells us what the news are. Aggregation is content.