Washington Post to launch free personalized news site

The Washington Post Co.

is preparing to launch a free news aggregation website, part of a growing push among publishers to personalize the news reading experience.

The service, called Trove, allows readers to create their own news site based on the topics of their choice. Scheduled to go live next month, Trove sifts through over 10,000 news sources and delivers articles on a personalized page using algorithms that take into account the articles a person has read and his personal interests. Trove apps for devices like the iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry are also in the works.

Post Co. is investing between $ 5 million and $ 10 million in this effort. Executives said they don’t have revenue projections, which is a secondary concern to building an audience for now.

“We’re going to look opportunistically,” said Vijay Ravindran, chief digital officer of Post Co. and a former Amazon executive. “We’re not going to do everything to maximize every revenue opportunity. We don’t have an audience yet.”

Like many other news organizations, Post Co. has been affected by declining revenues driven in part by the migration of readers and advertisers to the web, where there are many more options for news and where people are. advertisements sell for much less than they do in print. In response to headwinds, publishers are trying to figure out how to generate more revenue from online readers and have been experimenting with new ways of presenting the news.

Newspapers develop websites that display the collected news for individual readers. Above, the Washington Post building in Washington, DC

Bloomberg News

Media executives say the holy grail of online news is a service that tailors the experience for each reader as effectively as sites like Amazon and Pandora do for books and music.

“For me, Amazon was the first large-scale example of very successful personalization,” said Post Co. president Don Graham. “I admired what they did to personalize the Amazon website. I understood that personalizing something like the Washington Post would be much, much more difficult.”

The post office is not alone. New York Times Co.

NYT 1.29%

is developing News.me, an app that creates a personalized article feed for users based on what the people they follow on Twitter are sharing and reading. Recently, The Post joined The Times Co. and Gannett Co.

GCI 6.75%

to invest a combined $ 12 million in Ongo, a newly launched paid service that organizes news by sources handpicked by subscribers.

Mr Ravindran said the news is more difficult than other products to tailor to individual preferences in part because the relevance of the articles is fleeting. Also, buying an item like a book is a clearer signal of interest than clicking on an item, which means Amazon has an easier task of gauging customer tastes than the Post Office. .

Mr. Ravindran’s team has created an internal algorithm that automatically organizes the site based on the latest user activity in each thematic area, or channel, and the relevance and timeliness of current news. At least initially, users will need to register for Trove through a Facebook account, so that the interests and other information of their profiles, as well as the fan pages they have joined, will be reflected on the news site. .

Part of the Trove homepage, which will include advertisements, will be dedicated to a feed of editors-selected news, while a separate area will display topic channels listing the top three stories based on user interests. . Readers can choose from over 3,000 topics to personalize the site, ranging from hot topics like democracy in the Middle East to always hot topics like organic gardening.

Similar to Google News from Google Inc., articles that appear on the site will include headlines and blurb with a link to the original source. The “Wayne Rooney” channel, for example, lists articles on the English football star from the Arsenal Daily News, the Sun newspaper in London and Goal.com.

Mr. Ravindran joined the company in early 2009 after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recommended him to Mr. Graham. At the time, Post Co.’s newspaper unit was bleeding money and was on the verge of sustaining operating losses of over $ 160 million for the year. Mr Graham told Mr Ravindran that he wants him to create new products for the company’s websites, occasionally invest in start-ups and form a team to “try to find a different way and, hopefully, better to present the news ”.

The development team, now numbering more than 20 people, spent the first year working with the Post Office and the company’s Slate.com website on small initiatives, including improving the selection of comments on Slate and the launch of a Wiki platform for high school swimming on the Post Office website.

Last July, Post Co. acquired iCurrent, an Internet news aggregator that provided the basis for Trove.

Write to Russell Adams at [email protected]

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