Robin Sloan produced a clever Flash movie called "EPIC 2004" speculating about the future of personalized news and information. Worth watching.
After a brief recap of events of the last decade, the movie speculates about a future product from Google, the Google Grid, a vast file and content-sharing network that appears to be some combination of Blogger, TiVo, Napster, and the Google cluster. In Robin's vision, this is followed by MSN Newsbotster, a personalized news site that appears to be some combination of Findory, Slashdot, Memeorandum, and social networking tools like Friendster. Next up is Googlezon and EPIC, an "evolving personalized media construct" that provide personalized information by summarizing and rewriting content dynamically for each user.
Summarizing news and documents as described in EPIC is very difficult, but it is an active area of research. One of the most interesting examples out there now is Columbia Newsblaster. Microsoft Research also is doing work in this area.
Aside from the silly brand names of Newsbotster and Googlezon, Robin Sloan has created an interesting and thought-provoking vision of the future. Definitely watch the movie.
The movie ends with criticism of this new world of personalized news and information, complaining that it will be dominated by "narrow, shallow, sensationalist trivia", apparently what Robin Sloan thinks is all people really want and all they'll get from personalized news. He also claims Googlezon and EPIC will cause the death of large and well-respected news organizations like the New York Times.
The death of the New York Times? Clearly hyperbole. At best, Google News is another distribution channel for news. While it may reduce traffic to the front page of online newspapers, it drives traffic to their content, to individual articles. As the CEO of AP said recently, the "content will be more important than its container." News organizations will continue and thrive in the future. The only differences are that content -- the work of talented reporters and writers -- will be emphasized and that the content will be distributed more widely.
Are personalized news sites more shallow or more narrow? Compare a personalized news site to the current front page of CNN. The unpersonalized front page of CNN provides only a shallow view targeting some mishmash of the general interests of millions of readers. By trying to satisfy everyone, it satisfies no one, a bland blend of interests that results in mediocrity. And, I only get the perspective of CNN, what they think is important to their readers.
Personalized news provides an opportunity to broaden reader's interests, exposing them to news sources, perspectives, and viewpoints they otherwise would never have seen. A personalized news aggregator provides both breadth and focus, sorting through huge numbers of sources and articles and helping you find what you need.
Personalized news helps you discover news you would otherwise miss. It makes it easier to get the information you need to be well-informed about the events that impact your life. If this is the future, it is a future which should excite us.
Update: A few weeks later, EPIC is making the rounds again and getting some additional coverage (CNet, Slashdot, Traffick, InsideMicrosoft). A couple folks even started a Googlezon blog.