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Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab's Brexit web notification experiment

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Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab's Brexit web notification experiment

Almost 14,000 Guardian readers signed up to receive mobile notifications on the EU-referendum on June 23rd. 

The first type of Brexit alerts they received highlighted key events in the Guardian's live blog. Later there were three polls, asking readers what issue was most important to them; whether they thought the rain would impact the final outcome; and a post-Brexit poll asking readers whether the issue they cared about most was any different than the day before, or if they were now most worried about the further break-up of the UK. Lastly, as each of the 382 local authorities reported, results were fed to the live-tracker, as well as a real-time, continuously updating notification.

More flexible type of notifications
Rather than having to make the commitment to download an app and set its alert preferences, web notifications offer a more accessible way for users to participate for a limited time. "We’re just sort of saying this is just a little bit of a topical time-limited set of notifications that you’re going to get and then it’s going to end," Sasha Koren, Editor at the Mobile Innovation Lab told the World Editors Forum.

Notifications become content
This new form of storytelling gives readers only small bits of information and easy ways to interact with the online content while they may be doing other things. "If you were in the US and at dinner, you could glance at your phone and see the results as they updated, then continue with your conversation rather than diving into an article," Koren said. But it doesn't end there. Beyond just using alerts to provide a click-through headline, web notifications have the potential to become content. 

While the engagement begins with a notification on the lock screen, it doesn’t seem to end there, said Sarah Schmalbach, Product Manager at the lab, in response to concerns that notifications may not encourage ongoing engagement. "In fact, it does encourage engagement within the notification, and also with the content we’ve seeded into those action buttons with a click through for more."

The Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab
The lab is doing ongoing tests on very different features and functionalities of notifications that aren't currently being used by news organisations, such as sequential, interactive notifications, polling with real-time results, data visualisation through an alert item, and automatic background updates. Housed in the Guardian US newsroom, and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, its main goal is to explore mobile storytelling on behalf of the industry. With a mandate to experiment, test and learn, one of it most important tasks is to share that knowledge. 

An evaluation of the lessons learned from the Brexit experiment is available on Medium.
You can also sign up for future experimental notifications here



2016-07-06 10:28

Author information

The World Editors Forum is the organisation within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (, launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.

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