Monday, October 17, 2005

Inform and personalized news

Bob Tedeschi at the New York Times writes about a new personalized news startup called Inform.

According to the article, Inform hopes to build "the ultimate newspaper of the future" using personalization.
[Inform] will not only let you find articles on the topic of your choice from hundreds of newspapers and magazines, it will also alert you to all the other news accounts floating around cyberspace that have any connection whatsoever to anything you read.

As a user reads a WashingtonPost.com article about Sandra Day O'Connor, for example, Inform offers a short list of related stories about the justice and other people, places, organizations, topics, industries and products mentioned in the text.

When users register with the site, Inform will also watch what they read and make suggestions on their home pages based on past sessions.
I wasn't actually able to get the personalization to work when I tried it. I registered, read a few articles, and went back to the home page. The home page hadn't changed. Please let me know if you do find a way to get the personalization to appear. I'd like to see it.

As their press release describes, the Inform personalization technology is based on text analysis.
Inform's proprietary technology collects content from thousands of sources and analyzes the entire text using an algorithmic processing engine. Through this process, Inform systematically tags and scores each component of the article, identifying every topic, industry, organization, person, place and product mentioned throughout the entire article.
The problem with this technique is that the recommendations are often obvious and uninteresting. When you read an article on Iraq, you'll tend to be recommended other articles on Iraq. Using information about what users find, like Findory does, allows more interesting recommendations, like noticing that people who read stories on Iraq also read stories about North Korea.

Personalized news seems to be heating up lately. I've heard of 3-4 startups in the last couple months that already have released or soon will be releasing products for personalized news. Exciting!

Update: A blisteringly negative review of Inform from Rafat Ali at PaidContent.org. Ouchie.

Update: Apparently, Inform is not a small startup. The company employs 55 people. Findory, in comparison, has 2.

3 comments:

Elroy Jetson said...

Correct me if I am wrong here, but, from the tutorial, the only way the news is personalized for me is by creating a custom news channel. During this process is are essentially saving a text based search query by entering terms of interest and then it generates a news channel of articles only dealing with the terms in the query. I don't believe there is any real time personalization going on behind the scenes.

Greg Linden said...

Thanks, Elroy. I guess I was mislead by the claim that Inform will "watch what [readers] read and make suggestions on their home pages."

Sounds like Bob was wrong and they don't actually do that.

Christoph Janz said...

I just blogged about this. Could be of interest to you.