FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

New Tools for Managing News

Just as inventors eternally strive to build a better mousetrap, Internet developers, it seems, are constantly looking for ways to better manage news items. Once upon a time there was Topix, Slashdot, Bloglines and Technorati, but now, a new generation of news tools is making its mark.

Digg is a tech news site that arranges its stories by popularity, or how many "diggs" the story receives. For the more politically inclined, there's memorandum, which crawls blogs and news sites, and organizes disparate stories by topic. Inform.com, a beta, focuses more on traditional news sources, but allows users to drill around by using "discovery paths" to find information related to a certain topic.

Many of these tools have received substantial amounts of VC funding, so they are being taken seriously. With the growing concern about information overload and an "attention crisis," people are eager for better ways to manage the onslaught of data they receive daily. The new tools appear to steer clear of the one drawback of many of the original news portals: they filtered news items to the point where users saw only the items they wanted to see, rather than what they needed to see to be truly informed.

The next generation of these tools will have to focus not only on categorizing items, but helping the user make sense of it all. If a tool could be smart enough to somehow abridge the mountains of news items and present a "fair and balanced" perspective -- yet still allow users to drill into the primary sources -- it would go a long way toward helping people be better informed, more productive and less overwhelmed.

RELATED: The importance of news aggregators and organizers will only grow in the era of what Terry Heaton calls "unbundled media." In an essay on the subject, Heaton explains how, instead of watching a structured news program on TV, we'll be able to aggregate discrete news items (local news stories, national news stories, sports highlights, weather forecasts, etc.) that are either supported by relevant advertising or offered through paid subscription. Of course, we can do much of that now, but Heaton argues that this will ultimately be the preferred source of news for many.

Source: MIT Technology Review