If traditional media was all about broadcasting — distributing a one-size-fits-all message to a wide audience, usually via a platform controlled by the media — new media is more about personalization and customization. In other words, the quest for a “Daily Me.” But it’s still unclear how exactly we’re going to get there. Are Facebook and Twitter the new gatekeepers? Will it happen in an app, or on the web? Will algorithms do it, or human beings, or some combination of both? Two new entrants — a service called Trove and an iPad app called News.me — have joined the horde of players who are trying to answer that question, and they have taken very different approaches.
Both have a traditional media pedigree to some extent, although in a sense they are also startups. Trove — which came out of beta on Wednesday — is owned by the Washington Post. It’s based on a startup the publishing company bought called iCurrent, which was working on semantic filtering and recommendation systems. Trove is essentially a website that uses your Facebook login and profile to build a newspaper-style offering customized to your “likes” (in both the Facebook sense and the regular sense). It then learns from your reading and usage, according to a note Post CEO Don Graham wrote and published on Facebook.
In my somewhat-limited use of the beta site, however, I haven’t found the selection process to be that effective, at least not for my purposes. I much prefer to use an interface like that in the Zite app, which I’ve written about before.
Although the Trove site is based on algorithms and your social graph, it still has some traditional media elements to it as well — including an editorial team that filters through content from the more than 10,000 sources the site aggregates and chooses the “big news” stories that also populate the site. While it’s launching as a web service, the company says apps for the iPhone and iPad are coming soon (there is an Android and a BlackBerry version already). Perhaps to counter its big-media pedigree, Trove also took an irreverent tone with its launch by releasing a video clip that pays homage to those ubiquitous news animation videos:
News.me, meanwhile, is expected to launch in the Apple app store on Thursday, according to Betaworks CEO John Borthwick, after being in beta testing for the past several months. Although the project got its start inside the New York Times, Borthwick’s New York-based startup incubator — which has given birth to such popular web tools as Chartbeat and Bitly — effectively took over development of the app by bringing the two NYT developers who came up with it in-house and refining the concept (although the Times has a stake in the company and in Betaworks).
Unlike Trove, which looks at your Facebook likes and your social graph to come up with recommendations, News.me takes a very different approach. It effectively gives you a window into what others are reading — not just your friends or those you follow, but also prominent web users such as Mitch Kapor and NYT writer Nick Bilton — by showing you their Twitter feeds. As Borthwick described it to me when I met him at Betaworks’ offices in New York, it’s like “looking over someone’s shoulder while they are surfing Twitter” and being able to read the articles being shared in their streams.
Thanks to the association with Betaworks, News.me also uses Bitly and its ranking algorithms to come up with news that lots of people are sharing — since it can see what the most-shared URLs are at any given time. The app (which I have been testing for several weeks) is still rough around the edges, and it needs to draw from a broader group of users than it currently includes, but the idea of looking at what other people are reading makes a lot of sense. In a way, it’s an implicit form of recommendation rather than one that requires someone to click a “like” button or actively distribute something.
There’s another difference to News.me as well: The company is charging 99 cents per week for the app, and wants to work out partnerships with publishers (it’s already working with the New York Times and several others) to share advertising and other revenue with them. This makes it more like Flipboard — which has also been working with publishers to license their content — and less like Zite, the Vancouver, British Columbia-based startup that has been handed a cease-and-desist order by a number of media entities.
Whoever wins this particular race, whether it’s Flipboard or Zite or News.me — or something we haven’t seen yet that comes directly from Google or Facebook or Twitter — the future of media consumption is going to look a lot more like a smorgasbord of sources and content, personalized and recommended by friends and our social graph, and a lot less like that megaphone traditional media outlets used to have and control. In a sense, Trove and News.me both came from attempts by publishers to try to figure out how to get out in front of that trend, and that’s a good thing.