There’s a new news aggregator on the block – Newsflashr.
So my first thoughts are: does this sound like the sort of news aggregator you’d like to meet down a darkened alley at three in the morning?
Fortunately that’s not usually a question I ask when looking at new sources – and maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong…
Nonetheless, the press release, and one or two reviews for this service hint at some real potential in newsgathering. And although its still in Beta (so everything can still change) I’m going to put it through its paces from a UK point of view.
So, to these reviews – Search Engine Watch have said of Newsflashr:
For the first time, we’ll be able to determine whether Twitter is actually a news source. Plus, Digg – one of the key drivers of searches on Google Hot Trends – will be featured as a news source.
Any user of Addictomatic, which has been aggregating Twitter content for a while now, might take exception to this claim of novelty. In the wider scheme of things, Newsflashr actually shares a lot in common with Addictomatic – both allow you to search across several aggregators simultaneously and bring back a mix of MSM and socially spun content.
In some regards Addictomatic out-performs Newsflashr – it offers a broader range of sources, and allows you to personalise (by removing or rearranging the different modules on the page) to your (albeit limited) satisfaction. Newsflashr permits personalisation in as far as you can determine how many headlines to return, and either turn on or off timestamps for each entry.
Newsflashr modules however remain static on the page – featuring Google news, then Microsoft Live, then Ask Big News from left to right in that order – not my preferred choice of source, but there’s not a lot I can do about it.
Addictomatic offers a broader sweep of sources than Newsflashr, and on its homepage also offers a Popular link, feeding through to a range of modules offering socially harvested news, including some interesting innovations which haven’t been factored into Newsflashr, like Yahoo’s Most Emailed stories.
One drawback with both services in terms of the way they present social news results in particular, is that the source is generally not included in the headline of the story (not even when rolling over the text).
Ask Big News (the US version, not the UK version) and Digg results won’t actually tell you from which sources their stories originate, until you click through – a lack of transparency which poses a problem for anyone trying to monitor the worthiness of a particular story.
I’ll use a practical example from earlier today to prove the point – take news of RBS posting the second greatest pre-tax losses in UK banking history.
This is a big issue – certainly in the UK, but across the world, as RBS is an international bank, and one of the largest in the world. But I’m interested in UK-based news primarily.
If you run a search for RBS in Newsflashr many of the primary sources found in the Google News results returned are US-based (Forbes, Bloomberg, etc.).
Newsflashr doesn’t recognise that you are a UK-based user, thus undoing all the hard work done by the original sources (like Google News) which either allow you to determine (or pre-configure) news which is geographically relevant to you (by domain).
Another issue rests in the provenance of some of the ‘collective intelligence’, provided via the social news modules.
The module for WordPress for example, contains some blog posts which have been lifted from news sources hook line and sinker, rather than offering ‘blog opinion’.
This is a shame, as it does little to dispell the prejudices of those who feel blogging is a parasitic medium when it comes to news.
BUT: there are some really good things about this system too.
Newsflashr’s Topics View really does bring the system into its own (see the option on the top-right of your results).
On the right-hand side there’s a Popular Headline Topics section, directly above which is a slidebar which allows you to set the ‘freshness’ of the news agenda (from stories 1 hour old, to 7 hours old - those freshest stories appear in red rather than blue, and are scaled according to popular usage).
This is a great way for anyone playing catch-up on the days events – especially journalists coming into a shift, who need to be right up to speed on all that’s going on.
On the right there is a brief list of breaking news, which you can sort by time or by Alexa-ranked source (albeit this is not a failsafe guide to media ‘reliability’).
Another area in which it excels is viewable from a link down at the bottom of your results page: the Most Popular Topics link.
Click on the link, and you have a summarising overview of hot keywords and associated stories from across the different subject areas covered; from World News, through Business and so on. Its intuitive, and again suits the process of newsgathering down to the ground.
So to conclude – though there is clearly some really useful aspects to this new service, the providers need to work out how to make the news more locally relevant, and avoid undoing the good work some news aggregators have already undertaken in this field.
But then given its still in Beta, there’s plenty of time and scope for improvement, which shouldn’t be a problem given the ingenuity of some of the positives.