Phone ‘boredom detector’ to push news alerts


Researchers say they have developed a learning algorithm that can detect when a mobile phone user is bored, and then use that data to more effectively market breaking news and content through push notifications.

The “boredom detector” comes from researchers at Telefonic Research in Barcelona and will be presented at the annual UbiComp ubiquitous computing conference in Japan next week.

“In times of information overload, attention has become a limiting factor in the way we consume information,” wrote researcher Martin Pielo in a blog explaining the study.

“Yet, attention is not always scarce. When being bored, attention is abundant, and people often turn to their phones to kill time. So, wouldn’t it be great if more services sought your attention when you are bored and left you alone when you were busy?”

The algorithm monitors mobile usage behaviour and found boredom was correlated with increased phone and app usage, how recently a user last unlocked their phone, the time between receiving a call or SMS and how much data was being uploaded.

Participants in the study were sent Buzzfeed articles when the algorithm detected boredom. Buzzfeed was used because its articles are designed to be interesting to a broad audience and content on Buzzfeed’s app remains available even without an internet connection.

The study found users opened notifications 20 per cent of the time when they were “bored” compared to 8 per cent when they were not.

“Bored” users also kept reading articles for more than 30 seconds 15 per cent of the time compared to 4 per cent when they were “not bored”.

Mobile "boredom detector"

Australian mobile marketing agency mNet chief executive Scott Player says many of his clients are still coming to terms with the possibilities of their own mobile platforms and apps, “let alone utilising the power of the data off the back of it”.

“The data that can be captured (on mobiles) is in lots of different forms,” Mr Player said. “All that information can be blended especially with third party data to form a much bigger picture around the user.”

Mr Player says the algorithm could show promise for mobile publishing clients. However the data must be robust, able to be accurately used and the algorithm would need to be seamlessly integrated into mobile platforms.

“I think it’s only the start. You know, it’s been the year of mobile for 10 years but now people are actually able to invest and use data.”

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