I'm a news junkie. And I don't do that Tiger Woods, Michael Jackson, or Paris Hilton crap either. I only do the hard stuff – elections, Iranian nuclear weapons, health care reform.
If you're my kind of junkie, then NewsTrust's new MyNews is a must have. I'm pretty much in love with the webapp, so what follows is a mixture of praise, reasons to use, and suggestions.
Aggregators to the rescue
There are too many niche and mainstream news sites to follow. While we all have our favorites, but it's just not feasible to check only a few sites that are either too niche, too sparsely updated to warrant checking constantly, or so full of frequently updated content that you're sure to miss something important.
The natural solution is an aggregator, of which there are really two different types: those that collect content from everywhere and attempt to show you the best stuff (think: Google News), and curated aggregators that look at a ton of hand picked sources – including other aggregators – and only show you the best of the best (think: Memeorandum). The Google News variety of aggregator is great for diving deep into a particular topic. Put another way: they're really good at search. However, they don't do a good job of promoting the best stories and ensuring that nothing important gets past you. Curated aggregators pick up that slack, excelling at discovery and browsing. This is easy to see: Google News is great for research, but if you want to read the tech news of the day, you're better off at Slashdot.
Why trust NewsTrust?
My preferred aggregator until two weeks ago was newser.com which I like for its UI. Newser showed me a wide variety of hard news in a format that was really easy to digest.
And then MyNews, which I was beta testing at the time, became awesome. It has replaced Newser in a coveted spot in my bookmarks bar. (I still really like the UI of Newser, but content is king, and MyNews wins.) The idea that became MyNews has been around for at least a year that I'm aware of, and likely longer than that. While working for NewsTrust, I was a part of the internal testing process for SmartFeeds which has become the backend for MyNews.
SmartFeeds is really nothing more than an automatically curated aggregator that collected stories based a complex editorial review of sources. Initially, SmartFeeds most practical application was pre-populating the NewsTrust review form with metadata because the algorithm wasn't very good at predicting relevance. The implementation in MyNews shows a much evolved algorithm.
How MyNews Works
The reason MyNews is so cool, is that it takes the best features of the best aggregators, marinates, and serves with a side of quality. Think of it as:
- Editorial curated stream of stories (like Newser)
- Crowdsourced story gathering with a ranking system for quality (like Hacker News)
- Automated web scraping for the latest stories (like Memeorandum)
- Personalized rankings based on user preference (Google Reader's "Sort by Magic")
MyNews decides what articles to serve up to you based on three categories:
- Your social graph: Connect your Twitter and Facebook accounts and MyNews will pull in the links that your friends share. The algorithm doesn't appear to rank these stories too highly though. NewsTrust seems to have made the conscious choice to rank the sources they know to trust higher. I think that is a mistake. If I take the time to link my accounts, I'd really like to see NewsTrust put a lot of weight behind what my friends say I should read.
- Trusted sources: The whole point of NewsTrust is to determine which articles and news organizations are trustworthy. Based on the wisdom of the crowds and editorial review you're nearly guaranteed to see only high quality stories.
- Topics you've selected: one downside to MyNews is the effort it takes to setup. You don't have to, but putting a bit of effort toward telling the system what you like to read and who you trust, will create a highly customized experience.
I only want to see info about politics, technology, and media. That's all MyNews shows me. Tiger Woods is there because he's talked about on my Twitter and Facebook accounts, but he's buried – I rarely have to look at his headlines.
MyNews has a heavy focus on Political news, with a bit of tech and media thrown in. That's just how the algorithm is weighted. This is not for you if you like sports, entertainment, fashion, or local. Though it's possible that in the future, NewsTrust will upgrade the algorithm to be able to deal with a wider variety of topics.
Last Sunday was a perfect storm for us news junkies.
- It was a Sunday so the weekly editions with long form journalism were coming out.
- The House was passing Health Care Reform and breaking news was coming in left and right.
- HCR finally passing meant that there were many cool interactive graphics and longer articles that newsorgs had been sitting on were finally released.
Through all of this NewsTrust performed admirably. I constantly found great content at the top of my page and really enjoyed following the story throughout the day using MyNews as my only aggregator.
Now I see…
The perfect news aggregator should keep a high signal to noise ratio. Show a wide enough variety to enable the user to discover new topics of interest, but rarely show irrelevant topics.
For the longest time, NewsTrust has hovering between acting as an aggregator and a Digg-esque, social bookmarking, service. MyNews ties these two functions together very nicely and gives NewsTrust a solid purpose. All startups struggle to find the right way to present their idea. I'm fairly certain that NewsTrust has found theirs.