Sol, an aggregated news site from Norwegian magazine and news publishing group Aller Media, launched an app in December to gain new, younger readers. The Sol app uses a combination of algorithms and human editors to surface content people are interested in, in order to keep them in the app longer.
So far, Sol is seeing encouraging results from the app, which has a healthy average daily dwell time of 11 minutes, according to Sol CEO Jan Thoresen, thanks in part to the algorithm serving relevant content. The app has 50,000 daily unique users and adds around 5,000 new users a week, he said, noting that it’s particularly popular with women between 18 and 24 years old. Sol’s app and site have a 750,000 unique weekly users, Thoresen said.
“The ongoing challenge for the content industry is that we’re losing control of distribution, and we can’t expect Google and Facebook to take care of us,” said Thoresen. “We need to reinvent the way news is distributed in a feed way. We focus on creating habits. The strategy is around the quality; we call it thinkbait rather than clickbait.”
When users register with the app, they are welcomed by a chatbot assistant, which 50 percent of users opt into using, according to Sol. The app surfaces local news stories based on users’ location, as well as content based on interests gleaned from what users choose to read. The editorial team also manually sources roughly 100 news stories a day from other Norwegian publishers, linking back to those news outlets.
“Machine learning is reviving news aggregators all over the world,” said Thoresen, adding that Sol’s app took inspiration from Toutiao, a Chinese aggregator app. “We wanted to test it out in a local market.”
Another reason for the app’s popularity is Facebook’s algorithm change in January that de-emphasized news content in the feed, which Thoresen said has led to a huge decrease in Facebook referral traffic for Norway’s news publishers. “People miss the news, and they’re used to a sophisticated way of sorting,” he said.
Sol has 25 people working on the app, split evenly between sales, editorial and technology. A team of six people developed the app over six months. Thoresen said Sol monetizes its content in the app through display ads, and it’s profitable.
As with other apps, encouraging people to download the Sol app is a challenge, particularly when similar services like Apple News or Upday come installed on mobile phones. After Sol advertised its app on Facebook and Instagram in March, the app climbed from No. 17 to No. 1 on the Apple App Store’s list of top free apps in Norway.
Other publishers that have had success with their apps include sports publisher Bleacher Report, which gets people to spend five minutes a day in its app, and women’s lifestyle site Bustle, which gets users to spend six minutes per session in its app.
Sol plans to add more ad units to the app without compromising the user experience and improve its push notifications. People who opt in to push notifications get about four push notifications a day about specific topics users have shown interest in, like sports, science or technology, plus an additional two about breaking news. “Based on interest and urgency, we’re experimenting with more editorial content that’s less time-urgent, as well as trying to make [the app] more like a news assistant,” said Thoresen.
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