News aggregator Techmeme melds algorithms and humans

News aggregator Techmeme is perhaps the fastest way to find interesting tech news – it takes minutes to find and link to breaking stories, as opposed to the hours or days that rivals like Digg or Google News take. That’s one reason why tech journalists (like ourselves) watch it obsessively.

Today, the site is moving beyond its chiefly technology-driven method of finding top stories. It has hired a human editor to help shape the site’s content: Megan McCarthy, a veteran tech reporter.

Techmeme is often controversial among tech journalists. Every tech publication (including VentureBeat) feels that it should have its headlines consistently featured over rivals. Techmeme uses a range of methods to figure out what stories are worth displaying, and from which publication. From our observation, these include how many links a particular article gets, how well it performs on a wide range of other tech-related aggregator sites, the overall reputation of the site based on past Techmeme performance, and other factors that founder Gabe Rivera keeps secret.

McCarthy will deal directly with pissed-off journalists who feel Techmeme’s algorithm has wronged them. She will help Rivera and the other company employee, Omer Horvitz, to rearrange headlines, pair related stories and conduct other acts of arbitration. The trio will less intensively edit other aggregator sites the company operates, including political news aggregator Memeorandum (which I am also addicted to) and gossip news aggregator WeSmirch (which I have never even looked at).

More, from Rivera’s company post on the matter:

Humans have always edited Techmeme of course, just implicitly. For instance, when a blogger links to a story, the headline might move higher on Techmeme. What’s different now is that an additional human editor will carry out changes explicitly to directly improve the mix of headlines on Techmeme. Though the implicit edits conveyed via algorithm outnumber the explicit edits perhaps by 1000 to 1 or more, the impact of the human editor is nonetheless pronounced. What will that effect be?

The news will just get faster and more interesting. Obsolete stories will be eliminated sooner while breaking stories will be expedited. Related grouping will improve. Most of this will happen only on Techmeme, though other sites (like memeorandum and WeSmirch) will increasingly benefit from the direct human touch as well.

[Image by tartx, via Techmeme's post about the news]