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CNN Trends

CNN’s $20 million acquisition of Zite bore its first fruit today with the launch of the news curation feature CNN Trends.

CNN Trends is prominently located at the top of the CNN homepage navigation bar, and it uses technology developed by Zite to identify the top 10 CNN stories per day, along with a list of additional sources from around the web. It’s very similar to how Zite curates news within its mobile and tablet applications, which uses a mix of user feedback and algorithms.

The main difference with CNN Trends is that a piece of original CNN content anchors every top story. You can select a particular topic for a list of top stories, all with their own top 10 posts. Each individual post can open up an expanded view with headlines from other websites that have also covered the news — sort of like Google News or TechMeme.

“We aren’t afraid of letting our (readers) make their own decision for where to go for a news story,” said CNN SVP of Digital KC Estenson in an interview with VentureBeat. “Maybe they go to GigaOM or VentureBeat for a particular story, but the goal is to have them start with CNN Trends, and come back after they’ve read that other content.”

Estenson said CNN’s website brings in 8 million to 10 million daily unique visitors and publishes hundreds of posts every day. The new CNN Trends feature, he said, is a great example for how the news organization is leveraging Zite and its team.

In the past, major news companies have trouble fitting in the valuable news curation services they purchase within existing business models. (Such as MSNBC’s purchase of social news curation site Newsvine in 2007 or Gannett’s purchase of local news aggregator Topix.) Even ultra-popular socially curated news sites like Reddit (under Conde Nast) and StumbleUpon (under Yahoo) didn’t do well as satellite properties of major news organizations.

“We really set out to be the exception to the rule of failed acquisitions,” Estenson told me. “I’ve really pushed Zite to be independent and develop its own products to be as successful as it can,” while also asking Zite to address CNN’s own problems.

After using the CNN Trends service for a while, I do think its a nice solution for people who don’t normally like to click headline links for posts that are hot, trending, or related content in the sidebars. It’s certainly a different approach for a news organization that produces such a high volume of content every day, too, and one that could end up boosting loyal readership.

As for CNN Trends, Zite CEO Mark Johnson said this is very much a first step. “In the future you’ll see us trying to gather more information about the individual user experience so we can tailor CNN Trends as a tool” that gives you precisely what you’re looking for.

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