An interesting question asked on Quora, the question-and-answer site (whose cofounder I interviewed recently) is about “personalized news” and why so many startups had tried to solve the problem and failed. Thoughtful answers have been posted by Techmeme founder Gabe Rivera and VC Eghosa Omoigui, among others, but I think the most recent answer hits the nail on the head. It comes from Idealab founder Bill Gross, a well-known Silicon Valley entrepreneur (he pioneered search-related advertising at Overture, for example). In a nutshell, he says the “Daily Me” is already here, thanks to Facebook and Twitter.
Gross says the idea of a personalized news service hasn’t failed at all, but is here “in disguise.” The Idealab founder says he has been “dreaming about ‘The Daily Me’ for 20 years, and I think it has finally wildly succeeded — it’s called Facebook and Twitter.” The two social networks have all the qualities that allow them to function as personalized news platforms, he says:
Important information to you. Curated by others. Refined by you. Serendipity included. Many people doing the filtering. Humans plus some algorithms, but mostly humans.
Gross adds that Twitter and Facebook also have another important feature, in that they are “good enough out of the box to get you going, and then you improve over time — over years even. Always giving you just enough to keep you in.”
I think Gross is right. Not that there isn’t room for a personalized news service that can bring something new to the table (Flipboard perhaps), but for many people, Twitter and Facebook are taking the place of other avenues for news. As I’ve argued before, Twitter has become a news platform, for better or worse, and the social aspect of friends and people you follow sharing those news links is an extremely powerful force. In an attempt to take advantage of that, Google has reportedly been experimenting with using Twitter as a social layer for its news service, and startups like Paper.li are leveraging that same phenomenon to build what are effectively personalized online newspapers.
For me, the ability to see news-related links and commentary shared by people I follow, and whose opinions I respect, is infinitely more desirable than a service that picks things it thinks I will like via some algorithm, or even the RSS reader that I have fine-tuned but now spend very little time reading (or a lot less than I used to).
Related GigaOM Pro content (sub req’d):
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