Perhaps the future of newspapers is all about local distribution — very local distribution, as in a whole newspaper printed for just one coffeeshop in London. The Newspaper Club has teamed up with The Guardian to launch what they call an “algorithmic newspaper”, published only for one location, its content mathematically harvested according to level of interest from the Guardian‘s weekly coverage. How does that work, exactly?
Newspaper Club co-founder Tom Taylor recently got in touch with Gizmodo to explain the concept behind the Long Good Read — which launched last month — and the algorithmic sorting that goes into finding its content.
We wrote some software to extract all the recent articles from the Guardian’s API. It selects the meaty, long form stuff and runs analytics against it (website traffic, comments, Tweets, likes, etc.) to find the most interesting articles.
An editor selects from those, and quickly assembles a newspaper. It’s all laid it out with our semi-automated software in under an hour, then sent to print (about 500 copies) and delivered to the Guardian’s coffee shop in Shoreditch for anyone to read over their cappuccino.
Note cappuccino in the photos, below.
The paper is thus extraordinarily specific to that particular coffeeshop, but also pulled from the existing archives of the Guardian; its coverage is thus as international and other-worldly as the newspaper’s normal stories, but it has been trimmed and cut for the specific interests of a local reading audience.
Of course, the notion of news specifically written for that coffeeshop would be an interesting intensification of this whole process, but it would also veer a bit too willingly toward some strange new kind of literary avant-garde, like Alain Robbe-Grillet or Georges Perec reporting on the comings and goings of cafe patrons at a particular location in east London.
Taylor admits that the newspaper is still “rough around the edges”, referring specifically to some software bugs that have led to design glitches; but the selection process itself, like those algorithms that serve up content on web searches or shine ads in all of our eyeballs online, can itself be tweaked and improved.
Either way, Taylor suggests the experiment offers “a glimpse of what newsprint could become in the 21st century, as this micro scale of production becomes possible. This is a newspaper tailored for a coffee shop, but tailoring for a single person isn’t too far off.”
You can see a few more shots in this Flickr set.