Battle of the Newsbots
November 18, 2003 1:04 PM   Subscribe

Microsoft fires back at Google News. As described in this article in New Scientist, MSN is trying its own version of Google News with a twist: theirs adds customized content tailored to the interests of the current reader.
posted by costas (28 comments total)
Note that for me at least currently redirects to (although I am in the U.S.). BTW, my interest in automated, customized, ranking newsbots is known, and I am trying really, really hard to not self-link...
posted by costas at 1:07 PM on November 18, 2003

Okay, costas, how does it feel to be a mouse scurrying around among the elephants (Google, Microsoft)?
posted by wendell at 1:12 PM on November 18, 2003

I'm in US and it took me to UK site too. Typical. When does Microsoft release the patch for this new venture.
posted by Outlawyr at 1:18 PM on November 18, 2003

Since I haven't invested a dime (except many, many hours of personal coding work), not too bad. My bot is over two years old and predates even GN and has way more features than either one... I am just disappointed MSN didn't make a takeover attempt :-)

BTW, closer examination of the UK test-site reveals that MSN is basically re-ranking and clustering Moreover feeds. I am guessing that either Yahoo or MSN will snap up Moreover very soon, as they prepare to do battle with Google.

Also, the UK redirect for US readers seems appropriate, since these are the only available sites.
posted by costas at 1:21 PM on November 18, 2003

Is there a word for that? A word for when you want to self-link, but feel it's inappropriate, so you slyly suggest what you'd like to see happen. And then someone nice, like Wendell, comes along and does it for you?

It's analogous to the Jewish term "Shabbos Goy." Synagogues employ a non-Jewish (often black here in the south, and almost always male and older) person who does just this in the synagogue on the sabbath and other holidays. The rabbi will walk into a room and say something to the effect of, "Boy, it sure is dark in here." And the shabbos goy, overhearing, comes in, and of his own volition(?!), turns on the lights so that brunch can be served.
posted by zpousman at 1:22 PM on November 18, 2003

Hmm, my quick try of the service kicks out lots and lots and lots of totally useless links.

I don't think Google's got too much to worry about just yet. At least not until MS starts forcing its customers to use their search engine. But they'd never do that. Oh no, not ever.

And I got kicked over to the UK site as well. Maybe that's why the results are a little underwhelming (though I did find one or two useful ones).
posted by fenriq at 1:23 PM on November 18, 2003

I'd imagine that said customized content only includes your interests if they align with Microsoft with respect to anti-trust allegations, the Open Source movement and their spin on security. I don't know that I really want customized content personally, if I did I'd probably go to or if they still offer customizable front pages. 99.9% of the time I couldn't care less about entertainment news but once in a while something is interesting. Seeing the little 20 character blurb isn't so obtrusive that I need to filter out entertainment.

On preview, this wasn't a self link. Just because his user profile links to his own aggregator (which I can't even bring up) doesn't mean that he had some agenda to publicize his work. It's obviously a field he has some interest in seeing as it's a field he has worked in before. If you see otherwise then please call out every submission where the author has his personal lame weblog linked in his profile. Obviously he's really trying to drum up readership by showing the quality of his insightful (or inciteful) posts.
posted by substrate at 1:29 PM on November 18, 2003

substrate: Well, there's always karma: my provider just decided to switch me to a new server... so the site will be hosed for a while...

I think MSN has the right idea; automatically customized content is far more useful than say My Yahoo! headlines which have to be 'gardened' manually. Yes, their site is less than great right now, but so was GN in the beginning.
posted by costas at 1:33 PM on November 18, 2003

It has been some time since I saw or heard the word "shul" used, as in the comment above. A shul is for the Orthodox; a "temple: is for the Reform (they have nearly gone Greek), and a synagogue is for the reform or orthodox who don;'t know the word shul any longer. In my shul, we use an illegal Mexican to put the lights on and off during the sabbath...he says he plans to convert soon so won't be able to handle the work load.
posted by Postroad at 1:47 PM on November 18, 2003

I don't imagine that it would be particularly difficult for Google to offer just such a feature. That's the kind of thing that they could have in alpha within a week and beta within a month.

I'm not sure that I would want such customization, though. Since Google News launched, and I made it my primary news source, I've found that my knowledge of news is much broader than it had been previously. When getting my news through the filter of, say, CNN, I see what CNN wants me to see. (I don't mean that in the conspiratorial sense. They're a filter. That's their job.) After years of getting my news from the same sources, my tastes had come to match those presented to me. After switching to Google News, I found that there were things going on in the world that I wouldn't normally bother to pay attention to, notably soccer, rugby, news from Africa, South America, and East Asia. What I'm trying to say is that I'm not sure that I am most fit to determine what news that I'm interested in. If I were shown only news about topics that I had read about previously, I think a sort of stagnation of learning would inevitably take place, if I relied on that news service to the degree to which I currently rely on Google News.
posted by waldo at 2:05 PM on November 18, 2003

It's analogous to the Jewish term "Shabbos Goy."
Yep, that's Wendell. I actually had an experience being a personal "Shabbos Goy" for a 'semi-orthodox' Jewish ex-girlfriend. She seemed at times to pick and choose which Jewish laws she would uphold devotedly and which she wouldn't. I'll say no more; the relationship didn't last.
posted by wendell at 2:05 PM on November 18, 2003

Actually, right at the top of the Google News page is an unbelievably powerful customization tool. To use it, enter keywords pertaining to your interests and press the adjacent button.

The customization seems to be something I'd have to have a MSN/Passport/MS-Pound-Me-In-The-Ass ID or account for. Otherwise they promise to offer only"stories [which] are most popular and [to] suggest stories that you may want to follow based on the patterns of other users." Headline by popularity contest isn't really too compelling a so-called customization. It's customizing the site to someone else's preferences, not the current user. Nevermind the fact that Microsoft isn't exactly an intermediary I'd choose for unbiased news.

By requiring some kind of membership this isn't much of a Google-killer, that's for sure.
posted by majick at 2:13 PM on November 18, 2003

Almost back on topic: If I've got any qualm about Memigo, it's the format, with the headline immediately followed by the name of the source. When the source is "Yahoo", it looks like an editorial comment.
posted by wendell at 2:17 PM on November 18, 2003

Would she go bowling?
posted by yerfatma at 2:19 PM on November 18, 2003

I think auto-customizing news feeds are dangerous and will increase the balkanization we're already seeing around places like America. People already tend to read articles they agree with and that support their views. They already tend to visit web sites and subscribe to newspapers that they agree with. Take this process any further, and we'd all be living inside our own little costomized faux-news pod, with no idea that any other perspectives exist.
posted by alms at 2:45 PM on November 18, 2003

majick makes a good point, its damn near impossible to trust anything MS does. And if I'm required to register my information with them then they lose, I won't do it, ever.

And alms also makes a good point, part of the utility of reading the top level news is to get an idea of what's happening in the world, not just the stuff I'm already interested in.

And besides, who wants MS dictating what's news and what's not news? They're going to filter it for stories slamming them and their lawsuits, crappy software and monopoly actions. If I want skewed news, I'll watch Fox News, thanks, at least they have occasionally hot talking heads delivering all the "skews" that's fit to spew.
posted by fenriq at 2:56 PM on November 18, 2003

A.) This went with that.

2. alms, that's a really good point. Nice to know things will get shriller as technology lets us get more self-assured.
posted by yerfatma at 2:58 PM on November 18, 2003

What a neat idea.

Now if only Microsoft had their service online over at Google, I might even use it!
posted by insomnia_lj at 3:26 PM on November 18, 2003

"theirs adds customized content tailored to the interests of the current reader."

I wonder if this is the same technology that is employed to send me hundreds of 'targeted' email offers via compromised windows boxes around the world?
posted by MrLint at 3:45 PM on November 18, 2003

Once MSN Newsbot is fully functional, Microsoft says the site will personalise results within 10 minutes of a user starting to browse.

Meanwhile, I can type in a few keywords into Google News and get what I need in 15 seconds. So far the algorithim for this Microsoft News thing blows Bill Gates's bollocks. Typing in the word "book," I get "UPDATE 2--GE plans large insurance IPO for 1994" at the top, which has nothing whatsoever to do with literature.

Meanwhile, Google News Alerts will send me articles relating to a specific keyword "once a day" or "as it happens," with a nice little note indicating that "Google will not sell or share your email address."

And let's not forget Google News Grabber.

Microsoft's "revolutionary" new technology here is pro forma. Toss around a bunch of braggadocio about something that already exists, and proclaim it as "revolutionary." Even though the technology has been in operational use for some time, whether through Google News or Memigo.
posted by ed at 4:25 PM on November 18, 2003

Hmmm. NewsFilterFilter.

(which makes it ideal for MetaFilter)
posted by namespan at 4:48 PM on November 18, 2003

Typing in the word "book," I get "UPDATE 2--GE plans large insurance IPO for 1994" at the top, which has nothing whatsoever to do with literature.

most books aren't.
lierature, that is.

posted by quonsar at 5:07 PM on November 18, 2003

Anytime I hear Microsoft or MSN with the word customized in the same paragraph, my spidey senses start ringing like an all-chime orchestra.
posted by will at 5:17 PM on November 18, 2003

Customized content as a feature? Wow, it's 1996 again!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:09 PM on November 18, 2003

Would she go bowling?
yerfatma, no person of either gender or any religious persuasion has ever gotten ME to put on bowling shoes, so the answer is: don't know, don't care. This press conference is over.

As for customized content, maybe we could get Matt to do a pony that would allow users to see only certain political opinions (Left or Right), or certain attitudes (High Snarky or No Snarky), or even genders (BoyZone or GirlZone). The possibilities are downright nauseating. I'll suggest it on MetaTalk right now (as soon as these flamingoes finish coming out of my ass).

The preceding comment is rated High Snarky. (Hi, Snarky!)
posted by wendell at 6:42 PM on November 18, 2003

A word for when you want to self-link, but feel it's inappropriate, so you slyly suggest what you'd like to see happen.

note: it's ok to link to your own things as comments in threads, if it adds to the discussion and/or saves space because you're written a reply elsewhere
posted by dejah420 at 7:21 PM on November 18, 2003

Three thoughts on following that link. First, as reported by the newsbot in the upper left hand corner, the number one "Most Popular Article" is headlined "Microsoft tests Web news service." Fair and balanced, indeed. Second, it's got ads all over it - text ads, to be sure, so it's not a bandwidth issue, but text ads that are almost indistinguishable in style from the actual news stories, which is worse. Feh. Third, the page design at Google News is more compact, bringing me far more content in far less space. Apparently MSN users have difficulties unless there are significant white spaces separating all the articles.
posted by JollyWanker at 5:15 AM on November 19, 2003

Make that four... Microsoft's newsbot seems to also have inherited Redmond's propensity for ignoring Cupertino. Nowhere on the technology page is there any indication of Apple's release yesterday of the new dual-processor PowerMac G5s or the 20" upgrade iMac... Headline news? Of course not. But worthy of inclusion on the same page that passes off Lexmark's press release on their new printer and a "5 years ago" link to Larry-doesn't-like-Bill as news? I know I think so...
posted by JollyWanker at 5:28 AM on November 19, 2003

« Older Help in Iraq   |   Perspectives on Hawaiian Sovereignty Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments