Hong Kong gets its own news aggregator app

March 21, 2018 11:11
Former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa, who runs a think-tank, was involved in the launch of the news aggregator app 'Hong Kong Headline'. Photos: HKEJ, Internet

Hong Kong has witnessed the launch of a news aggregator app called 'Hong Kong Headline'. The mobile app has sparked chatter that it could pose a threat to traditional media, particularly the free newspaper Headline Daily.

The new 'Hong Kong Headline' mobile app reminds us of Jinri Toutiao, China's most popular news app which has seen its operating company getting valued at as much as US$30 billion.

Jinri Toutiao was founded by Zhang Yiming in 2012. The app, whose name translates as “today's headlines,” doesn’t have its own staff writers and editors. Instead, it uses artificial intelligence and big data to filter and distribute news content. It now has over 140 million active users, and is considered to have the only independent ecosystem in China apart from Tencent and Alibaba.

The app carefully studies users' reading behavior, such as what story they read, the time they spent on it, or which paragraph they seem to like the most. The algorithm will then sort through numerous news, commentaries, and video to find the best content.

That means all users will get a customized version of news headlines on their mobile every day. It's said that most users are quite happy with the content, as it offers more personalized and intelligent user experience.

In today’s information era, the most-scarce resource is attention rather than oil or gold. Platforms that can grab people’s attention will be the biggest winners.

For example, Chinese netizens spend an average of 30 minutes on Tencent’s WeChat, while their American counterparts spend over 40 minutes on Facebook. That’s why Tencent and Facebook have become some of the world’s most valuable internet companies.

Currently, Jinri Toutiao has over 140 million active users, who spend an average of 74 minutes daily on the app reading news and watching videos. It’s reported that Tencent and Alibaba have tried several times to buy a stake in the company. But Zhang, who has a big ambition to build up his business empire further, has strongly refused.

Hong Kong Headline can be deemed as the Hong Kong version of Jinri Toutiao. It aggregates news from various media partners in Hong Kong.

The business model has sparked criticism from Charles Ho Tsu-kwok, chairman of Sing Tao News Corporation, which owns the free Chinese newspaper Headline Daily.

Ho criticized the app, saying it is just "copying news here and there." 

The operator of Hong Kong Headline is an entity named Hong Kong Headline Big Data Company. The name makes it obvious that it intends to utilize big data technology to filter content for Hong Kong users.

The full article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 20

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist