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Technology & Operations Management Unit
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News aggregators have emerged as an important component of digital content ecosystems, attracting traffic by hosting collections of links to third party content, but also creating conflict with content producers. Aggregators provide titles and short summaries (snippets) of articles they link to. Content producers claim that their presence deprives them of traffic that would otherwise flow to their sites. In light of this controversy, we conduct a series of field experiments whose objective is to provide insight with respect to how readers allocate their attention between a news aggregator and the original articles it links to. Our experiments are based on manipulating elements of the user interface of a Swiss mobile news aggregator. We examine how key design parameters, such as the length of the text snippet that an aggregator provides about articles, the presence of associated photos as well as of other related articles on the same story, affect (a) a reader’s propensity to click on an article, (b) the amount of time that the reader spends on that article after clicking, and (c) the amount of time the reader spends on the aggregator. Our study sheds light into how the presence of aggregators affects the allocation of user attention to original article sites as well as how it impacts competition among articles written on the same topic.