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How Mashable is using artificial intelligence to shape stories

From New Look to Google, artificial intelligence is increasingly featuring in the plans of forward-thinking brands, and according to new media darlings Mashable, AI should now be in the thoughts of publishers too.

Speaking to The Drum at DigitasLBi’s What’s Next in Media event, Mashable’s executive director EMEA, Ben Maher, hailed the role artificial intelligence and machine learning can play in helping to identify stories that will prove popular and even predict the kind of content audiences will want to share.

At Mashable, that’s already happening through an analytics platform dubbed Velocity, which identifies trends and breaking stories by analysing 300m different links every 30 seconds. “It gives us a view on how a story is behaving at any given time and it also then uses the artificial intelligence to predict where that story’s going to end up,” Maher said.

He explained that Mashable’s editors use Velocity to find out where the “saturation point” will be – essentially, how long they have to cover something before it loses its virality. “The saturation point is where it’s had 95 per cent of its shares and once it reaches that point we know that it’s not something we need to be talking about or promoting. So we can curate our homepage, we can curate the stories we seed on social channels by understanding when those saturation points are.”

This data-driven approach to journalism represents a departure from the more traditional news-gathering techniques that remain prevalent among many publishers – particularly those still negotiating the delicate transition from print worthiness to online relevance.

“As a publishing industry we do need to be more experimental,” Maher said. “We shouldn’t necessarily have our audience as guinea pigs, but what we should be trying to do is understand their behaviours more and then trialling things.”

And that shouldn't end at the way publishers find content, but should also include the way they distribute it too, according to Maher.

“I think the homepage is dead and it’s really important that you meet the audience where they are. Do not expect people to address your domain or reach your homepage – it’s not be-all and end-all.

“It does take different levels of resourcing – that is a challenge for legacy businesses – and it’s something in our business we address very proactively so that we can meet the latest platforms, whether it’s Meerkat, or Periscope, we can be on those platforms doing engaging things that mean something to the audience.”

You can hear more from Maher on why he feels it’s time to redefine storytelling in our video above.

Featured by The Drum