Would you trust the masses to tell you what stories are important? A new site from Microsoft called msnNOW shows you what topics are trending right this very second so you don’t have sort through hundreds of RSS or Twitter feeds. It combs Facebook, Twitter, Bing, and BreakingNews.com to surface the stories getting the most social buzz.
“Social is now the ‘newswire,’ the go-to place for important information and edgy discussion,” an MSN spokesperson told VentureBeat. “We created msnNOW so people can cut through the clutter and quickly filter through the overwhelming amount of information streaming on the Web to find out what’s hot, and why.”
By taking out the human editing element and using a program to choose topics based entirely on their popularity with the general public, msnNOW runs into an interesting problem: It turns out the general public is interested in total crap.
The site, now.msn.com, rotates through four stories on top, with well-written headlines such as “Creepy site links rich guys, co-eds” and “Halle Berry’s new movie stars sharks but still seems boring.” To the right of that carousel is a list of top trending keywords, called Biggest Movers, that’s updated every five minutes. The bottom half of the page is a grid of other trending stories that can be filtered by five topics: Fame, Cash, Sweat, Soul, and Wire. The categories seem to be loosely defined, with Bar Refaeli jumping on a trampoline filed under Sweat.
The technology behind the site is a custom tool called Demand Dashboard that MSN’s developers spent a year creating.
“It does all the work to bring together what’s emerging online in real-time and identifies acceleration of trends that are becoming more viral. Specifically, it identifies the topic’s strength based on total volume or acceleration,” explained the spokesperson. The Demand Dashboard then takes the information it collects on a trend and pushes it down the production line to an editorial team for publication.
What’s especially brilliant on the part of MSN is that each story doesn’t link back to the original site, but to another msnNOW page with an image and a 100-word summary of the trend written by one of MSN’s 20 editors. Videos are embedded above the summary, and there are in-text links back to tweets, local news coverage, or Facebook posts. Once you gulp down the bite-sized nugget of information you came for, you’ll be tempted by delicious-looking links to related stories that cover the page. You might be sucked into a never-ending loop of viral news.
Currently, there are no ads on the site, but that will change in a few months when the plan is to make revenue off of advertising and sponsorships. “Once we are very clear of how people are interacting and experiencing with msnNOW, we will offer advertising experiences that are both useful and beneficial for consumers and advertisers.”
The new site already acts as fascinating view into our collective Id. We are all horrible people wasting time at work, and I totally clicked on the headline “Adele song helps a bulldog through some dark times.” The public’s insatiable appetite for dessert content is a problem online journalists are intimately familiar with. You can spend a week on a serious and deeply reported story, but a slideshow about cats bonding with antelopes will rake in the traffic.
I am confident msnNOW will be a hit, since it’s a nicely designed aggregator of other hits. That doesn’t mean it can’t make me sad for humanity. And that sadness does mean I can’t bookmark it and visit a few times a day.