The 24 hour news cycle gives us more information than we will ever need for a day. For rapidly developing stories or trends, it is difficult to stay on top of accessible articles and provide critical details quickly. Our news consumption habits allow us to know more about something rather than understanding the essential facts of an issue. Anum Hussain and Vivian Diep recognized the limits surrounding the way news is produced and delivered to readers, leading them to create Acciyo. Acciyo is a Google Chrome extension that takes advantage of natural language processing, an area of machine learning, to instantly generate a broader and detailed context of the article read. The startup is currently based in Los Angeles, California, and previously participated in MIT’s Delta V accelerator in 2018.
Frédéric Daso: Do you think we are inundated with information daily in our 24 hour news cycle? If so, how can they properly regulate their information consumption?
Anum Hussein: Absoutely. There are thousands of unique articles posted daily on top news sites. At all times, we are not actively following the news, we are falling behind. Our phones and the internet led to a 24 hour news cycle that Stronger so that we are truly informed. Many people we talk to feel overwhelmed and give up or rely on other sources to let them know, like friends or newsletters. Here’s what we’ve seen happen: News readers have a restricted list of news sites they visit on a daily basis. Whenever they stumble upon a story they don’t know much, they end up in a rabbit hole of tabbed hell trying to piece the story together. Often times, they don’t even know what to look for and end up going back and forth trying to piece together a puzzle without having a reference image.
At the end of the day, we are sorely lacking in the tools and technologies that allow us to navigate the deluge of content. At Acciyo, we’re excited to use machine learning to help you understand what’s going on with this story until the moment you find out.
Dasso: Based on the first question, what are the challenges in quickly understanding and building the right context surrounding a particular event reported in the news?
Hussein: When a new topic hits the headlines, if you haven’t followed from the start, you’re missing out on the vital context. Opening an article today has become like opening a book in chapter three: you’re suddenly in the middle and you don’t know how you got there. We are now seeing it with COVID19. The entire critical or historical context from December is buried under the constant barrage of minute-by-minute developments.
Search engines optimize for recency which makes matters worse. Even if you search for the topic, you see more headlines repeating what you’ve already landed on. The moment, the story, the context go hand in hand in understanding a current story: the moment you enter the story, the amount of story that has accumulated until the moment you land in it, and the aggregated context that guides your understanding of where the story is today. At Acciyo, we want these pieces to come together on one screen.
Daso: Is the population of adult news readers increasing, staying the same, or declining? For active readers, why do subscription news services struggle to provide timely articles that help their readers familiarize themselves with a topic or set of stories?
Hussein: Contrary to popular belief, the number of adult news readers is increasing and increasingly paying for news through subscriptions. Some call the increase in subscriptions the ‘Trump Bump’, when the number of people paying for online information increased from 10% in 2016 to 16% in 2017 (Reuters) because many began to want credible sources after the fear of disinformation set in in 2016.
The problem is not a will To subscribe to news; it’s the pure volume subscriptions needed to have a holistic news plan. Most of the readers we’re talking about pay for at least one subscription, so you can cover around 80% of your content needs. The remaining 20% requires subscribing to all the media you come across, which is not feasible. Sometimes a story on one of your sites needed additional context from another site, but there’s no easy way to get it all in one place.
Dasso: Can existing subscription news platforms (NYT, WP, LA Times, etc.) change their reporting strategies to be more context-focused rather than a constant flow of information?
Hussein: Newsrooms are full of journalists, and they compete with stories, with the intention of representing and serving their respective communities. They don’t want to be technological competitors. They can’t afford to be tech companies alongside content companies. They are already expanding their reporters as data scientists, transcriptionists, reporters, social media managers, and even bloggers. Only the richest newspapers can afford everything, but a healthy information ecosystem is not a single voice. We heard this firsthand as one of the few tech reps selected in a room full of reporters at an invitation-only event at the New York Media Lab on how AI could be used in the world. news at the beginning of 2020.
As early as 2017, we spoke with a senior executive about a major news release about how the company plans to use technology or data science to improve audience engagement. He gave me a 10 year plan. That is to say a decade From now on, his team will be fully up to date with the technology and data dashboards that were invented over five years ago. This means that newsrooms are always catching up.
Acciyo recognizes that transformation has to come sooner rather than later. We care about the news, not only to survive but also to prosper. We are happy to be partners in this journey and to use our expertise to deliver the right content to the right client at the right time and apply it to news sites across the country. Together, we can help make the news easy to understand.
Dasso: I’m assuming Acciyo uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to assess the context of a story. If so, what was your approach to selecting articles to train the model to identify key words, phrases, sentences and contextual paragraphs?
Hussein: Acciyo uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to understand every article we come across through our scrapers and readers. To get the most out of our money as a startup, we focus on a select group of diverse publications that our users frequent. We have noticed that some editors have a particular style, and this results in different levels of usefulness in the extracted keywords compared to using named entities.
Dasso: What motivated the decision to create and invest in an editorial team to produce a newsletter that generates added value for your clients?
Hussein: Under the fold, our weekly newsletter with important stories not making headlines, was born out of a product brainstorm where we set out to make Acciyo the champion of the informed information experience. Our whole mission as a company is to help you be * really * informed, but how do you stay informed without having a 360-degree view of what’s going on in the world? In this business, we consume a lot of news. It made sense to share with our readers some of the exciting stories that are often missing throughout the week. It’s a part of our mission to provide readers with an informed news experience.
Dasso: How has your time at the Boston Globe shaped your view of news reporting?
Hussein: Working in a newsroom was exhilarating – you’re always at the forefront of the story, knowing everything that happens as it unfolds. You are the first to know what’s going on in your world and report on it regularly. You are fully informed because it is your job to be. As soon as I stepped out of this role… I realized that despite our best efforts, this is not the reality of ordinary citizens. We have our own jobs that require our 24/7 focus, leaving only pockets of time to keep up with the news. By the time a story becomes breaking news and flashes across our screens, we’ve already missed the key moments that were brewing to get there. That’s what got me excited about creating Acciyo – connecting the dots between the endless content posted and making it accessible and accessible to readers when they’re ready to consume it.
Dasso: What did Diep learn at Deepstream that she relies on working with you at Acciyo today?
Hussein: There is so much at our disposal. In video news and print news, a major thorn in the side of producers and consumers is accessing and navigating through that content to understand how the latest and greatest update fits into the narrative plus large. Diep brought Acciyo his experience of the difficulties of seeking information for the purpose of discovery rather than a single, concise answer.
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