I think recently launched online news site thoof has taken another step in the right direction—toward giving its readers the news they want and withholding the news they don’t. Thoof seems to learn what its readers like buy remembering their clicks on article summaries that given user-assigned and -edited tags. If you click on an article summary with the tag “politics,” the next time you visit you’re more likely to see article summaries tagged “politics.”
But Mike Arrington’s concern, inspired the fact that “web is littered with failed or stagnant personalized news startups,” is still relevant. People do “usually want to read news and then discuss it with friends. That is why people still tend to prefer big news sites: “everyone else flocks there, too.”
If it wanted to, however, Thoof could keep something like main page that displayed the aggregate of all its readers’ preferences. Each reader could then, at any time, choose whether to read his personal page or the page that reflects the many, many decisions of the Thoof community. Then Thoof might be able to satisfy Arrington’s worry that “the niche audiences that really want personalized news aren’t enough to sustain these startups.” Thoof can have it both ways.
Better, in fact. Readers who want the news the “flock” sees get a much purer version of it, an elevated version of that. The flock isn’t just reading the same thing—they’re causing themselves to read the same thing along the way. They’re not just readers, led by a shepherd. They’re editors, and they lead themselves.