Simon Willison’s Weblog


Personalisation? We’ve already got it

5th April 2004

Vin Crosbie, a highly respected commentator on the online news industry, recently published his long awaited essay What Newspapers and Their Web Sites Must Do to Survive. It’s long but captivating and well researched; if you have any interest in the role of traditional newspapers on the web you should take the time to read it.

Vin believes that customisation of both online and offline editions to serve reader’s individual interests is critical to the survival of big-J media. He makes an excellent case; the problem is we are already there.

I would guess that at least 90% of my news intake comes from reading blogs—the 130 blogs you can see listed in the sidebar on my front page. That’s not to say that I only read 130 sites—blogging is about linking, and those 130 sites in turn link me out to a huge network of news sources around the web. The blogs I read work as the ultimate personalised filtering mechanism: I read them because their authors have similar interests to me, and are the people most likely to direct me to content that I will personally find interesting.

No computerised system could possibly compete with 130 hand-picked human editors, working around the clock to channel interesting information in my direction. Blogs are conversations, but they are also filters. Never before in my life have I had to invest so little effort in finding so much diverse and fulfilling content. As a certified infovore I don’t know how I survived without them.

What this means for traditional news media is anyone’s guess. It’s certainly not going to die out: someone has to collect the news and there’s only so much unpaid bloggers can do in that regard. We certainly live in interesting times.

As an aside, if you’re interested in online media you should read Steve Yelvington’s essay Ten years in new media: Looking back, looking forward, which includes a call to arms to the online news industry to get over the novelty of new technology and finally start taking advantage of it.

This is Personalisation? We’ve already got it by Simon Willison, posted on 5th April 2004.

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