iCurrent Wants to Personalize News for the Masses

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.

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