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Summary:

People are nostalgic for newspapers for a reason. The growing multitude of options for getting your daily news is more stressful than informative. We have on the one hand Google Reader, with its ever-growing mass of unread items, and on the other sites like NYTimes.com, which […]

People are nostalgic for newspapers for a reason. The growing multitude of options for getting your daily news is more stressful than informative. We have on the one hand Google Reader, with its ever-growing mass of unread items, and on the other sites like NYTimes.com, which even as they get more customizable and webby are still limited to a small set of authors. But attempts to create a personalized news aggregator often require too much work on the part of users.

iCurrent, a personal information delivery service from entrepreneur Ramana Rao, formerly of Inxight Software and Xerox PARC, is trying to be smart but also easy. Funded to the tune of $3 million from Crosslink Capital, Rao said he’s deliberately kept South San Francisco, Calif.-based iCurrent under the radar. “We’re not scared or disrespectful of people in the Valley, but our goal is to build a product for the mainstream,” he said. His target audience lives in Ohio and reads USA Today.

What iCurrent does is filter the millions of news stories and blog posts produced every day into one page of must-read items. Rather than rely — like a feed reader does — on a selection of sources to produce and curate content, it keeps you up to date on your favorite topics.

To set up iCurrent you start by entering subject areas you’re interested in; sample topics might be “future of books,” “rebuilding the economy” or perhaps a more straightforward keyword like “college football.” The service will then build a front page of stories for you, and adjust what it shows based on your clickthroughs as well as any explicit granular feedback you give about what you like and dislike. It also delivers a less personal set of top news articles that may interest you. (If you’d like to try iCurrent, Rao has set up private beta invites for GigaOM readers who use the code “gigaom09.”)

Rao couldn’t specify exactly when the service will be available to the public, saying only: “When we’re ready. When the product’s ready.” But while he may not feel any urgency, it seems likely that in the meantime, the online news world will fill up with paywalls and even paid news aggregation. “There’s a roiling industry around us indeed,” he acknowledged. “We’re being as reactive and responsive to that but we’re a little dot and we’ll let them sort it out.”

While I have no doubt that iCurrent’s algorithms and editors are super smart, the site exists mostly outside of the emerging world of socially filtered information — where sites like Facebook and Twitter surface interesting links from our friends and networks. “Social is particularly good at filtering quality and alerting you rapidly on trending things, but no matter how many times someone else clicks it doesn’t make it interesting to you,” said Rao.

Rather, what iCurrent’s seven employees are wholly focused on is interpreting and anticipating potential users’ “extremely subtle set of requirements for reading.” Give it a whirl and let us know what you think.

By Liz Gannes

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  1. Peter congrats. I have one question. How is icurrent different & better than findory personalized newspaper that is no longer around ? ( Greg Linden was CEO and founder )

    Thx in advance….Steve

    Posted by: Steve Ardire | November 24, 2009 at 06:07 PM

    To be candid, I think that’s a question for Ramana. As I recall, Findory was well-received in certain circles. I don’t know the specifics of why it shut down. I’ve learned companies fail for a myriad of reasons and the root causes are often a series of choices made long before the end is obvious.

    Posted by: Peter Rip | November 24, 2009 at 08:17 PM

    http://bit.ly/7KsjAt

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    1. First, all respect to Greg Linden who worked hard for years toward the goal and who remains a fabulous blogger.

      A couple of differences. One on the matching, we emphasize explicit input on the user’s interests, though we don’t see this as an either/or.

      More importantly, the second difference is that from the beginning, we’ve focused on the whole experience for everybody. When you think from that perspective, esp. the mainstream part, you see many things across the full system differently. A big example is that prioritization across interests is as important as ranking within interests.

      Happy Thanksgiving all

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  2. I’d like to try this one out, I can’t keep up with all the awesome startups in this space right now. Regator’s new iPhone app rocks, http://collected.info is fun, lazyfeed and yourversion are both a lot of fun too. you gotta break free from Google Reader, Liz! :)

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  3. Michael Rubenstein Saturday, November 28, 2009

    Honestly, the first thing that jumped out at me was the disjointed, uninviting, and downright ugly design. It was clearly an afterthought, and it shows. I understand design probably wasn’t high on the list (it being a complex software application) but this is not acceptable.

    How can a $3 million startup manage to botch something so critically important to their success?

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