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TrapIt, an online service that’s designed to help individuals discover new content on the web, launched pretty quietly on Tuesday and is still cruising in a private beta. VentureBeat had a chance to try the site out for a few days. So far it seems a lot like Pandora for news stories — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Pandora is great for discovering new music because it automatically plays music from artists similar to an artist or genre a Pandora user selects. TrapIt is similar because it asks its users to pick news subjects they are interested in and builds a landing page that includes content similar to those types of news stories. For example, if I select the NBA Draft, I might get stories about college basketball.

The site is similar in design to StumbleUpon, another discovery engine that lets users quickly page through a lot of content and vote up sites they like. But StumbleUpon mostly focuses on general content, while TrapIt focuses on news. The site taps into more than 50,000 news sources pulled from RSS feeds and a hodgepodge of other “listening” algorithms that search for news. The site is geared toward text-based news sources, said TrapIt co-founder Hank Nothhaft.

Users go through around 20 news topics when they first join and pick “traps” from trending topics and topics found through a search engine. The main landing page features three selected traps, along with three “trending traps” and three “featured traps.” Trending traps are basically the newest and most buzz-worthy stories. The stories in each trap automatically cycle over time — new stories show up every 30 seconds or so — and you can “vote up” or “vote down” the traps.

“If you come in and type football, we don’t know whether you’re interested in college football, professional football or soccer, so it’s more like a search engine at first” Nothhaft said. “Once you start seeing what you’re interested and not interested in, the learning kicks in.”

Although I added around 20 traps, the site automatically showed only three: traps for basketball, women’s tennis and weather for my home town on the landing page. But those are currently very popular news topics, with the NBA Draft happening on Thursday and tennis tournament Wimbledon currently running.

Once you visit a story through TrapIt, you can quickly flip through other stories under that same topic. Opening up a trap takes you to the top story on a separate website but adds a bar on top to share the story and adds two arrows on the sides of the browser. You can use the arrows like Google’s Fast Flip to quickly page through multiple stories on the same subject.

TrapIt will keep track of the source when you vote it up or down. You can adjust the view to show all your traps, which is probably more useful for people only interested in their own personal blend of news. But the main page might be more useful for discovery because it constantly cycles in new content.

The site is free to use right now and will enter an open beta sometime later this year. The company currently isn’t generating any revenue and is just trying to build visibility for the service. That’s because it expects to sell the service to other big media companies like AOL that have thousands of news stories a day. Media giants can then build the technology into their own sites and help their users discover content.

“At the top-level instead of throwing out 100 links, those companies can put in front of them the 5 or 10 stories that they think will resonate with the user,” said TrapIt co-founder Gary Griffiths. “There are also some cool enterprise applications — deep discovery tool for health care and finance, internal data behind the firewall.”

The site may generate revenue through the use of sponsored traps – for example, when an advertiser pays the site to make sure there’s a specific news story on the landing page. But that is still a few months away, Griffiths said.

TrapIt is currently in closed beta and will likely enter an open beta in the third quarter this year. The company should release an iPhone and iPad application in the third quarter, and an Android application in the fourth quarter.

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