Apology to the public

We apologize to the users of news sites powered by Newstogram who were affected by a technical problem today (Dec. 19). The problem resulted from a faulty update to the DNS mappings for the Newstogram servers. As a result, users on affected ISPs or gateways were redirected to a generic page hosted by Network Solutions. The DNS entries have been corrected and the problem should be resolved as soon as all ISPs and gateways get the corrected DNS entries.

The Newstogram team

Flying the user-friendly skies

I travel a lot. Iím in a lot of airports (some good, some bad). So flying analogies usually work for me. But a recent trip that ended at Miamiís beautifully redone American Airlines terminal made me realize why one analogy I hear too often is misguided.

Youíve probably heard someone say, ìWeíre trying to rebuild the airplane while weíre flying it.î Sound familiar? Itís usually uttered when you need to justify why all work has to stop on anything except todayís mega-project.

In the media industry, we often hear about the big redesign or the CMS replacement or the new subscription system, or all three at once, keeping everyone busy. Having working on all of those kinds of projects, I understand why focus is critical. But are we really rebuilding an airplane in flight?

Having watched the transformation of MIA over the past three years, it struck me that the transformation of online media isnít analogous to trying to fly and rebuild airliners simultaneously, but it can be analogous to how you can rebuild a terminal while still handling millions of passengers a month.

The key is to have a long-term vision and design and then to build incrementally, opening new sections as they are completed, closing old areas to tear them down and replace them. Adding features as you go while still moving in one unified direction toward a well-conceived design.

Airports seldom get to start from the ground up. I can think of only the new Denver airport that got built entirely from scratch. We all recall the fiasco of its shiny new technology failing in the early days and know the hassles of traveling so far out of town, so perhaps building from scratch isnít a great solution, even if you can. While at WSJ.com, we did a nearly complete rebuild, and most of us wished we hadnít by the time the two-year project was finished.

Rebuilding an active terminal (or online news site) requires careful planning and attention, but it doesnít require that you buckle all the passengers in for a turbulent ride. If you know where you are going, you can add features as you go, giving passengers comfort that things are improving and making them willing to ìpardon the dust.î

While Iím on airport analogies, let me mention a couple of others that struck me:

New features take some time to gain adoption. MIA added a great new rail system to ferry passengers along its lengthy concourse. At first, many passengers kept walking right past the train stops, but slowly Iím noticing more using the train, especially when they need to go more than one stop.

Why not fix obvious user interface mistakes? Iíd like to know what grade in the Texas education system they teach the alphabet goes D, B, A, C, E. If you get on the train at DFW, thatís the order of terminals. Donít be confused into thinking terminal C is close to terminal D. Itís as far away as you can get.

Happy flying.

Newstogram ad network passes 5 million U.S. users

The Newstogram ad network, which supports free versions of our personalized news recommendations on roughly 60 sites, has now passed 5 million monthly unique users, putting it among the top 250 ad networks in the country, according to Quantcast.

Other publishers who’d like to engage their users with personalized recommendations and gain a new revenue stream should get in touch with us.

Welcome to our world

Itís been a big month for news about personalized news (and February isn’t even half over). Youíd think a startup like DailyMe with several years invested in building and evolving its Newstogram platform for dynamic personalization would want to keep the space to itself, but weíre excited that so many others are deciding to enter the fray. It validates the importance of delivering personally relevant news experiences to each user in a digital world and it demonstrates the power of participating in our network approach vs. the cost and effort of building a standalone system yourself.

Among the latest to announce or launch personalized news products:

The New York Times quietly rolled out a page of ìArticles Recommended for You.î So far, I havenít seen any promotion of it on the main site, just news coverage of it. If you visit the page, youíll need to log in, view several articles and wait a day for recommendations to appear. My experience has been that most of the recommendations are on target with my interests, but todayís top pick was ìMuseum and Gallery Listingsî even though my interests displayed on the right were all technology, business and sports related, with not a hint of arts. Perhaps thatís why itís still kept low key.

The Washington Post let out some details of a new site called Trove, though itís still in private beta and supposedly wonít launch until next month. Coverage in The Wall Street Journal noted: ìMedia executives say the holy grail of online news is a service that tailors the experience to each reader as effectively as sites like Amazon and Pandora do for books and music.î It also noted that ìnews is more difficult than other products to gear to individual preferences.î I couldnít agree more. The project reportedly has a development team of 20 people and the company is investing $5 million to $10 million. The article didnít say if that includes the cost of its purchase iCurrent last year.

A bit more vaporware-ish (launch targeted at ìfirst half of the yearî) is the Yahoo! announcement of ìLivestand.î The project is described as a publishing platform for mobile devices that will be offered to other publishers as well as present Yahoo! content. Like other efforts, Yahoo! also claims it will be personalized based on the kinds of content you consume, much as the Yahoo! home page is tailored to each userís interests. While this might work well for Yahoo! content, Iíll be interested to see if other publishers want their articles mixed into a personalized blend of news from different sources or if they prefer to keep their content within a walled garden.

The NYT and Post seem intrigued enough by personalized news that they are hedging their bets on their own efforts and investing in other similar projects. Both are investors in Ongo, a paid iPad app that is both customizable (user must create topics of interest) and ad-free. The Times also spun off a social-stream-based personalization project called News.Me into Betaworks, which is building it out for release soon.

And its not just the big players who are expanding their personalized offerings. My6Sense, which already has a neat iPhone app that tailors your RSS and social feeds using ìdigital intuition,î announced a Chrome browser extension that uses a similar approach to prioritize your Twitter stream.

If I wake up tomorrow to even more announcements of personalized news products, I guess I wonít think itís Ground Hog Day all over.

Newstogram network offers targeted ads

Last week we began rolling out new ad-supported personalized news modules on more than 30 partner sites. We’re delivering roughly 1 million modules a day through these sites.

This new product combines personalized news headlines based on the Newstogram affinity profile of each user and an ad unit that can also be targeted based on each user’s interests (as well as other audience characteristics). For advertisers, this is a great way to associate your brand with personalized news or to tailor the message based on a user’s affinities. For instance, if you’re promoting flat-panel televisions, the ad could feature different images for different users. Put sports action photos on the screen in ads for sports fans (we even can target down to the specific team) and movie scenes in ads for the film crowd.

Want to learn more, drop us a link via the contact form on the right column of this page.

Newsrooms finding data more useful

Nieman Journalism Lab recently used its Week in Review feature to sum up some great information about news metrics. It and the items it links to are worth a look for anyone interested in the subject.

News metrics is a subject near and dear to our hearts at DailyMe, because our Newstogram platform provides a lot of unique data that can be very useful to newsrooms.

While Newstogram was built primarily to deliver dynamically personalized content to each user automatically, we believe strongly in combining algorithmic matching with editorial judgment. As an outgrowth of building profiles of each user’s news interests and topical affinities, Newstogram also compiles aggregate data on the topics and entities (people, companies, sports teams, etc.) that are most popular on a site. Rather than just seeing a list of headlines of the most popular stories, Newstogram allows you to understand which subjects are hot across multiple stories.

We’ve been working to improve the dashboard that we provide each of our clients and hope those of you with access will let us know what’s useful and what can be improved further. (Unfortunately, each client dashboard is available only with that user’s password, but we can show you them if you request a demo of Newstogram.)

Letís be the íspyí who loved Me

If you are remotely interested in the field of personalization or targeting, then youíve surely been hearing about The Wall Street Journalís series What They Know, which it proclaims is a look at how ìmarketers are spying on Internet users ñ observing and remembering peopleís clicks, and building and selling detailed dossiers of their activities and interests.î

The use of language like ìspyingî and ìsurveillance technologyî and ìsurreptitiouslyî has been attacked by some, such as Jeff Jarvis in his post on ìCookie Madness.î But if you get beyond the scare tactic language and over-the-top talk about what the Journalís ìinvestigationî has learned, the series can be a useful introduction to a complex world that needs more light.

We agree with BlueKai CEO Omar Tawakol, who wrote in Advertising Age that the industry needs to be more open about tracking. ìWe need a less polarizing discussion,î Tawakol wrote.

Erin Jo Richey, a digital marketing analyst, sought to be more open in a piece she wrote for Ad Age and in more detail on her blog: ìSince I believe that more people should become familiar with internet technologies and with web analytics, allow me to continue the Wall Street Journalís discussion and fill in a few more details.î

And Cato Instituteís director of information policy studies, Jim Harper, noted: ìThough cookiesóand debate about their privacy consequencesóhave been around for a long time, many people donít know even the basics.î

Transparency and openness are key to the approach DailyMe has taken with our Newstogram platform. On DailyMe, you can see the profile we maintain of your news interests by clicking on the My Newstogram link on the left rail. On this page, you also can opt out of tracking, if you wish. Weíll soon be rolling out similar pages for partner sites that use Newstogram to personalize content.

In the coming weeks, weíll be adding to this blog additional information on cookies, tracking and privacy. We hope youíll share with us your thoughts here.

We’ve cracked the nut and it’s not even close to 2015

Delivering news digitally in a personalized manner is a nut many a startup as well as many established Internet companies and publishers are desperately trying to crack.

That’s the way TechCrunch began an article this week about another company entering the personalized news arena. Earlier in the week, we learned that The Washington Post Co. had purchased personalized news venture iCurrent. A week or so earlier, Google News rolled out some modest customization features.

Clearly, the field of personalized news is getting hot. Which makes us glad that DailyMe and our Newstogram platform have a three-year headstart and a unique approach. We’re not desperately trying to crack the nut, we have the nut cracked and are rolling Newstogram out on a range of news and information sites.

Personalization of news has been kicked around for a while. MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte described a virtual daily newspaper customized for an individual’s tastes in his 1995 book, “Being Digital.” He called it The Daily Me, a term we later adopted for our company, though he has nothing to do with DailyMe Inc.

In a commentary written for The Wall Street Journal last December, Google CEO Eric Schmidt described a device for news that knows who I am, what I like, and what I have already read. So while I get all the news and comment, I also see stories tailored for my interests. In his article, Schmidt imagined such a device being available in 2015.

In our view, 2015 is already here.

Newstogram already is serving up personalized news to users of sites like Variety.com and Impre.com and through several modules on DailyMe.com. Our approach of tracking and analyzing the content users consume and using the resulting individual interest profiles to make recommendations has outperformed other approaches in tests and we continue to improve and refine our algorithms.

We welcome the additional interest in news personalization, because it only serves to highlight our position as the leader in the field.

ImpreMedia now working with Newstogram to offer visitors personalized experiences

We’re excited to announce that ImpreMedia, the nation’s No.1 Spanish-language online and print news publisher, has adopted the Newstogram recommendation technology to generate data on user’s interests and deliver visitors personalized content, advertisements and e-commerce opportunities.

In the release, Monica Lozano, CEO of ImpreMedia, stated:

We value our audience above all else. The ability to now offer a highly personalized experience on our site is critical to meeting consumer needs. By implementing Newstogram, we have a detailed understanding of our user’s interests and a better way to present content that promotes site engagement. Plus, marketers looking to reach Hispanics will now have enhanced ad targeting. The news industry is changing, and new technologies like Newstogram are going to keep us ahead.

You can read the full press release here.

Facebook recommendations still far from personalized

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Let’s face it (pun intended), the launch of Facebook’s Open Graph put new buzz into the field of content recommendations and personalization. When the social networking giant offers up free tools that seemingly will increase traffic, website operators have to take notice. Within days, thousands of sites had deployed elements of the Facebook Platform, whether just adding the new Like buttons or presenting Network Activity or Recommendations modules intended to showcase what your friends recommend. (We’re even testing some of it on DailyMe.com.)

It’s difficult to write about these developments here on the Newstogram blog and not come off as defensive, since we provide technology that some might consider directly competitive. But we’ll offer our opinion and hope that you’ll share yours as well. Let’s make this a dialogue.

The good news out of the Facebook announcements is that sites are paying more attention to the quality and relevance of content recommendations and studying how they affect traffic and user engagement. Some are carving out a significant piece of real estate on their pages to give Facebook a test, just as others are testing Newstogram-powered recommendations.

In addition, Facebook’s use of the term “personalized” to describe its Recommendations plug-in gave added credence to an already growing interest in creating individualized experiences for users.

We just hope that sites don’t stop at deploying a Facebook widget and believe they’re giving their users the best personalized experience or are achieving the most engagement. We believe other approaches – mostly our own platform – are better suited to news content and similar media. And we’d love to work with some sites to put ours head-to-head with a Facebook module.

The biggest drawback to Facebook seems to be that it’s dependent on users clicking the “Like” or “Recommend” button on stories. We’ve been looking at Facebook widgets on a few of the large news sites, such as ABCNews.com, Time.com, CNN.com, and WashingtonPost.com. Even with up to 700 Facebook “friends” spanning all ages among our different accounts, we have few (or none) who are active recommenders of news stories. On a few of the sites, the only friends recommending stories are employees of the site, and even they aren’t that active. The result is a module not unlike a Digg or Most Popular list.

We’d like to hear from you. What do you think of Facebook implementations on news sites? Do you expect to be more active in recommending news content? Would you prefer a platform that personalizes news for you without any action on your part?