DailyMe: News tailored to your individual tastes

Column: Custom news websites come and go, but this one gets it right.

By , Columnist for The Christian Science Monitor

The flow of information on the Internet is like an ocean current – too powerful for any one person to handle. But since 1996 or so, many Internet entrepreneurs and media companies have dreamed of controlling that information to suit individual tastes.

Many have tried to find a way to personalize the news and deliver it only to those who are really interested. For me, an ideal newscast would include politics, Canada, the Boston Red Sox, and clog dancing (but that’s another story).

Sadly, the Internet highway is littered with the rusting hulks of various attempts to personalize the news over the past decade. None of them generated a real head of steam. The effort, however, did take a big step forward with the creation of RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds and aggregators that allowed you to “subscribe” to newssites and blogs.

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But critics of personalization argue that the whole concept is flawed – that by only focusing on news that people want to read, the public would miss out on important stories. I even recall one critic writing that personalized news could be a threat to democracy – that by allowing people to focus on their own interests, it would be difficult to inform them on issues that they had in common.

But lately I’ve become intrigued with DailyMe.com, a website that attempts to answer both critics and adherents of personalization. The top of the site’s homepage has three tabs: Top News, My Daily Me, and – a new social networking wrinkle – Daily We.

Top News is just what it says it is – news that the site’s editors consider to be the top stories of the day. My Daily Me is what you want to know about – Red Sox and clog dancing in my case. Daily We is the site’s effort to encourage users to recommend stories to each other – think Digg.com with a twist.

The new wrinkle is the way people recommend stories to each other. Rather than using a scale of 1 to 10 found on some sites, Daily We recommendations are based on emotional responses: insightful, humorous, enlightening, uplifting, tragic, weird.

But there’s another wrinkle: Unlike many sites that merely link to stories on other sites, DailyMe.com licenses all of its content, making it a financially attractive destination for content providers. Even so, the site remains free of charge to its users.

But it’s not just a website. DailyMe also offers a variety of ways to access your content: You can e-mail it to the inbox of your cellphone, send it directly to a printer, create your own RSS feed, or send it to RSS services powered by Yahoo or Google.

DailyMe.com, based in Hollywood, Fla., is the idea of Eduardo Hauser, who has been working on the idea since 2005.
“It’s an old idea for a new time,” he says in a telephone interview. “Content has grown. What was originally pushing us toward personalization of the news in the late ’90s has only grown.”

Between then and now, Mr. Hauser has continued to improve the personalization model as well as the way people write for digital media.

“We learned two things from previous experiences. When you give people a blank slate to pick their favorite news, they don’t know where to start.”

So from the beginning, Daily Me offers its readers a series of menus that help them narrow their choices.

“What we offer is a wide area of granulation,” says Neil Budde, DailyMe’s president, who used to help run newssites for the Wall Street Journal and Yahoo. “Many sites offer breaking news updates, so many in fact that it’s easy to get overloaded. But often there is no background or analysis of the news. It gets lost. That’s where personalization can really help.”

DailyMe, still labeled as being in its “beta” stage, has experienced a strong response from both consumers and publishers so far, Hauser says, although he would not reveal any usage numbers.

The site’s operating expenses are currently covered by investors, Hauser says. But he remains extremely optimistic about the future of his idea. The long-term answer for the site’s survival, he says, is through advertising.

“In the ’90s, the advertising dollars were not there.... There is a much stronger advertising environment for online right now,” he says. “The cost of how much it costs to actually build the page has dropped compared to the revenue you can make from selling the page.”

For now, DailyMe is worth a look, especially if you’re looking for a different model of personalization than the one you might be using right now.

Only time will tell if DailyMe will survive in the long run. I’ve seen too many personalized news sites fall short of the mark.
But I completely agree with Hauser when he says that the delivery of news tailored to fit the needs of an individual reader is absolutely the way the future of news is headed.

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