Today next-generation news aggregation site Inform unveiled itself. I spoke to CEO Neal Goldman a couple of weeks ago and got a demo of the site, which was very impressive. I don't have a great deal of time this morning to run through the site's features, but here's what makes it different:
- Comprehensiveness: Algo + some human editorial selection of sources (especially for blogs).
- Dynamic navigation and contextual search. The contextual search and refinement capabilities are extremely advanced and impressive. One can do much more exact and refined news-related searches than on general search engines.
- Personalization: There's a lot now and more coming. You have to register for the personalization features, which include the ability to save articles and create a personalized directory of content or sources/feeds. There's no Furl/MyWeb capability, however, which would be a very nice feature.
The blog content aggregation is much more limited than the news content right now. It's not a blog search engine per se. However, it does contain considerable blog content from top news-oriented blogs. And users can add any site/feed they want so it becomes, effectively, a substitute for a newsreader.
Stories that span multiple pages are presented in their entirety in a single window (the site doesn't send readers back to the original source sites). Ads appearing on those sites also appear with the news content. (Subscription/registration required content is gated and presented as it would appear if one navigated directly to the content site.)
How does this affect newspaper sites?
Inform would argue that it is going to surface a great deal more newspaper content pages (and related ads) than would otherwise be the case and gives newspapers more distribution accordingly. But there's also the chance that this takes existing news agregation (i.e., Google News, Topix, etc.) to a new level, to the point where I never need to visit a newspaper site again. (That's true for national but not local news necessarily.)
(There's a long digression here that I won't go into about the value of newspaper brands and how to maintain them over time.)
Goldman disagrees with my "devil's advocate" position and believes this helps news sites and news content gain exposure (and page views) they might otherwise not get. It's another instance of the same debate that came up last week when Craigslist barred Oodle from scraping its listings (aggregation vs. destination).
This is a very powerful tool and, in a way, the real fulfillment of the "personal newspaper" that was discussed hypothetically years and years ago, as the way people would be reading news in the future.
What's the business model? There will be some premium services, and the site has its own advertisers for pages that it "owns" (as opposed to those where the news content and associated ads appear).
There are critics who think it's too complex and confusing (paidContent.org, for example). I might agree that's there's a lot here and it's not fully intuitive for mainstream consumers. But I think these guys wil get that — I had a discussion with them about duplicative personalization elements — and simplify over time.
The newspapers (or other news media) are going to ultimately be compelled to buy this site. It's just a question of how long do they wait.