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What makes people click?

19 June 2013

A new study analysing tens of thousands of articles available to readers of online news has created a model to find out ‘what makes people click’.

The researchers developed a model of 'news appeal' based on the words contained in an article’s title and text intro, which is what a reader uses when they choose to click on a story. The study was conducted by academics at the University of Bristol’s Intelligent Systems Laboratory.

Its aim was to model the reading preferences for the audiences of 14 online news outlets using machine learning techniques. The models, describing the appeal of an article to each audience, were developed by linear functions of word frequencies. The models compared articles that became “most popular” on a given day in a given outlet with articles that did not.

The research, led by Nello Cristianini, Professor of Artificial Intelligence, identified the most attractive keywords, as well as the least attractive ones, and explained the choices readers made.

The team created a model for each user group they had data on, including the BBC’s online news, Forbes and Australian newspapers.

After scoring articles by reader preferences, the researchers then ranked the articles by their appeal, and studied what might explain the choices made by online readers.

Commenting on his research, Professor Cristianini said his team found significant inverse correlations between the appeal to users and the amount of attention devoted to public affairs, adding that people are "put off" by public affairs and "attracted" by entertainment, crime, and other non-public affairs topics.

The researchers examined millions of article pairs, collected over a period approaching eighteen months. The models analysed user choices, and those choices were then used to compare both the audiences and the contents of various news outlets.

One significant finding was a strong correlation between the demographic profiles of audiences and their preferences. They also found that content appeal is related both to writing style, with more sentimentally charged language being preferred, and to content with 'public affairs' topics, such as 'finance' and 'politics', being less preferred.

Further information about the study, together with word clouds of the most popular words for readers of Forbes magazine and the Australian website '', is available here, and a video about patterns in media content is available here

Public attitudes survey
The latest Attitudes to UK Industry report from CadenceFisher points to renewables as being the environmental and economic future for our country, though a significant number of the 2,008 UK adults surveyed by Populus urge caution about how well we can keep up with global competitors. The survey also found that teaching skills for industry should be prioritised over all others.

Three in four UK adults (76 percent) believe that renewable energy is the future for the planet and will be important to the global economy of the future. They would like to see government initiatives to support the renewables industry including investment plans and tax breaks. This view is fairly evenly spread across all age ranges and between men and women.

However, more than one in four (29 percent) say that the reality is that the UK will not be able to keep up and government support is better used in traditional industry such as automotive.

Just one in five (20 percent) is persuaded to a view that new ways of extracting and getting the best from fossil fuels and abundant natural gas will drive down the price of energy and the currently more expensive renewables will be pushed out of the market. There is also a gender divide on this issue with fewer women who were asked believing it that men by a ratio of one in six (16 percent) to one in four, (24 percent).

Nearly half (46 percent) say they would like to see the government invest in a new generation of nuclear power; this figure is nearly two thirds of men (60 percent) versus one in three women (32 percent).

Two in three people surveyed (66 percent) say that Britain should be leading the way on green manufacturing.

Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) skills should be given greater priority than any others in schools and colleges according to six in ten adults (61 percent) but significantly, this comprises 69 percent of men compared to 52 percent of women. Younger people are less convinced that SET skills should be given greater priority than others with just under half (47 percent) of 18-24 year olds agreeing with this strategy.

The full report and copies of previous studies are available here.

Les Hunt

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