AI for product is (almost) all about the user interface

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


One of the areas I’ve been slightly obsessed with is how AI can (will) change our UX. We have so many different ways to tell stories and show information to our users, but it’s almost too much.

So I spoke to Barak Ronen, co-founder/CEO at the London-based software company Crux Knowledge, who has spent the last few years working to help news publishers drive engagement and habit formation through AI powered gamification and recommendation (more about how he was doing that here).

What led you to look at gamifying news and using AI? 

I was there for the whole print-to-digital, to social-to-mobile journey — and developed both a sense of an immense opportunity and an unease about how the industry wasn’t capitalising on this opportunity.

For me, we need to speed up how we reinvent the most important, money-making, audience-touching part of our business: the user experience. This has never been more true than now because this what GenAI primarily is — a revolution in how content can be experienced. 

What does that mean for a news organisation today?

AI can do (too) many things. The way to choose what to go for should be based on business objectives. What are we trying to optimise or drive? We need to stick to our business “whys.” Is it engagement? Retention? New subscriber acquisition? Time on site? Whatever the answer is, the feature that can drive that is what we should be building. Most of these metrics will be driven by changes to our UX. AI — and tech in general — is a means, not an end.

Where do you see tangible opportunities around new AI features that drive some of these quantifiable business objectives? 

A few areas are very interesting for me, and I’m intentionally skipping summaries and search here (not sure at all these are the biggest opps):

  • Multimodal content consumption. Sites and apps are still dominated by pages that in many ways are similar to what we had 10 and 15 years ago. Text leading, video sometimes, a pic or two. AI can help us make bolder choices based on context and also open up new modals altogether. I can’t stop voice-talking to my ChatGPT. I’d love to talk to my favourite publisher or story that way. 

  • Personalisation and onboarding. AI is a fantastic conversationalist. That’s what it was created to do. There’s a huge space of opportunity here to get AI talking to users about their preferences, their choices, to befriend them, and drive loyalty — and I dare say love. Imagine stopping guessing what users want — and them starting to tell us and enjoy doing so.   

  • Avatars. Some of the best, sharpest, wittiest writers and opinionators work their magic in our newsrooms. They are our very own celebs. Their words matter not only because they contain information but also because of their voice and style. How do we create a system of “AI avatars” that leverages that, incentivises these newsroom stars, preserves truth, and builds their personal brands and the publisher’s brand? 

  • Meta experience. When our audiences spend time with our content and interfaces, they are not only consuming information, they are also building their own identity and self-worth. They are doing something for themselves. AI can tell them what they are doing, give them insight into what they care about, what they know, who they are, and who their peers are — and it can do it in a way that is super engaging and brand building. In CRUX, we gamified news consumption in a Fitbit-style experience, but GenAI can take it to a whole new level.

What’s the biggest risk around AI’s impact on the user experience?

For me, the biggest risk is missing out on a UX that can actually feel better than the industry’s basic atom, the “story.”

Search disrupted the business model, social created a whole other content experience that ate up more of the revenue pie — but both of these did ultimately point back (respectfully?) to a well-written story. 

GenAI has the potential to relegate the “story” to a place of a footnote, a procedural evidence piece inside a GenAI conversation in someone else’s shop. I understand why publishers are making licensing deals with big AI tech, but we must think aggressively, too. How do we use the revenue from these deals to reinvent our own UXs? How do we use those footnote-style links to take users to an experience that’s more engaging than the age-old article page?

What is the thing you are most excited about in terms of AI and UX?

The complete reimagining of the front-page experience. The industry’s most iconic user flow is a person getting to the front page with an inquisitive mindset and a question: What do I need to know? 

Front pages deliver back through curation, hierarchy, design, and wording. They still look, broadly, not too dissimilar to print front pages. Zoom out and give it a few years — or months for those who dare. AI will allow us to deliver all of these things in a completely different way. I can’t wait to see that happen.   

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About Jodie Hopperton

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