Newshound 2.0 Chases the Personalized News Filter Pack

By: Steve Outing

The San Jose Mercury News' Newshound service was an early pioneer in the field of personalized news filters -- and the first to be developed by a newspaper company. The e-mail-based service was launched in November 1994, and provides paying customers ($5 per month) with e-mail delivery of news items that match consumer-created keyword profiles, pulled from Mercury parent Knight-Ridder's news wires and other wire services.

But Newshound has looked dated for quite some time, as a host of other companies have developed personalized news services far richer in technological sophistication. Now, at long last, a version 2.0 of Newshound is being beta tested by Knight-Ridder's New Media Center in San Jose, which is spearheading development of the service (which will begin showing up next year in other Knight-Ridder newspaper Web sites). About 2,000 people are beta testing Newshound 2.0 now, and a commercial launch is expected in the coming months.

Newshound on the Web -- at last

The main upgrading of the service gives Newshound a Web interface, where before it was entirely e-mail oriented. Subscribers had to send in an e-mail command to initiate or update a personal topic profile. Now, according to Knight-Ridder online products manager Pamela Weiss, users can interact with Newshound and update their profiles from a Web form interface. And they will choose whether to receive their personalized news stories as e-mail or on a personalized Web page that's updated each time they visit.

Newshound 2.0 also gives users more flexibility in choosing which news sources to track for pertinent news, and Weiss says that a number of new source databases are being added, though at this date she can't say which ones. It will be adding full content of all Knight-Ridder papers to the mix. Newshound 2.0 also will allow the user to choose timing of delivery of news (time of day, what days for delivery, etc.).

One of the biggest drawbacks to the current Newshound is the lack of immediate feedback; a user sends in an e-mail command to set up a profile, but doesn't know if the profile is properly configured until it starts delivering news over the coming days. With Newshound 2.0, says Weiss, an auto testing feature allows a user to run her "Hound" and see what it turns up immediately -- then tweak the profile if necessary.

Having the consumer be responsible for configuring his own profiles is a weakness in the personalized news filtering concept, and many companies are devising techniques to assist customers in best defining their personalized profiles or agents. Newshound 2.0's approach is to introduce "Topics," which are professionally created personal profile templates that can be used by subscribers. Knight-Ridder is building a library of topics that subscribers can choose from. Choosing a Topic is akin to having a professional librarian define your search agent or profile rather than doing it yourself. Knight-Ridder is working with Silicon Valley-based SageWare on this technology.

This new version of Newshound is basically a rewrite from the ground up. Weiss says that the original Newshound was not written in a way that was scalable to a large service. Indeed, the original Newshound was only moderately successful as a business. Weiss concedes that it has one of the smallest customer bases of the various personalized news services, but declines to give a specific number of paying subscribers.

Weiss expects that most Newshound 2.0 subscribers will receive their news as personalized Web pages, rather than having stories e-mailed to them, as is currently the case with version 1.0. But there's much to be said for having personalized news delivered to you, rather than having to pro-actively go to a bookmarked Web page and retrieve it. The next step is likely to be e-mailed delivery of personalized Web pages in HTML format. Knight-Ridder is in an alliance with Netscape to take part in its Inbox Direct program, which is a scheme to allow publishers to deliver Web pages to customers' e-mail boxes. Weiss says that Knight-Ridder is just beginning to sort out what it will do as part of the Inbox Direct program, and has yet to determine how Newshound will be incorporated.

Behind in 'gee-whiz' category

Newshound has much competition now that it didn't have when it launched, and many competitors -- which are Internet technology companies with considerably greater technological expertise and resources -- carry the personalized news concept much further than Knight-Ridder is able to go. For example, services liked Excite's Live allow a subscriber to constantly "teach" the system what she likes, by telling it, "yes, I liked that story; send me more like it." Newshound will not have a similar capability in the initial release of 2.0.

Newshound is an interesting case study of a newspaper company developing some sophisticated technology pretty much on its own. (In addition to the SageWare alliance, Knight-Ridder has built Newshound using Verity's search technology.) Given the competitive nature of the personalized news filter service industry, which is heating up as we approach 1997, it will be difficult for Newshound to differentiate itself. And unless it finds a technology-savvy partner, it's likely to lag behind focused competitors in the "gee-whiz" features department.

Weiss says that Newshound will succeed based partly on the quality of its news sources. It will continue to be a charged service, while some of the competition is giving personalized news away free. She says that the subscription fee will include 24-hour customer support. Newshound will continue to have a flat "everything you can eat" monthly fee, which differentiates it from services like Individual's Newspage. In that service, a monthly fee of $6.95 a month gives a subscriber unlimited access to the service, but some full-text content of stories that may turn up in a user's personalized news feed costs extra.

To get a good idea of activity in the personalized news services area, I suggest that you take a look at an excellent summary and reviews of the major competitors in the field by New York University professor Christopher Harper. Harper ranks Newshound (the 1.0 e-mail version) low in comparison to the others. His reviews can be found at

Contact: Pamela Weiss,

Cartoon for newspaper Web sites

Tribune Media Services has launched its first editorial cartoon designed specifically for newspaper online services. Cartoonist Bill Mitchell, who is editorial cartoonist for Excite, uses a mix of animation, hyperlinks and occasionally audio in his work. The cartoons also invite users to share their responses by e-mailing the artist. Mitchell is a former editorial cartoonist for the Rochester (New York) Democrat & Chronicle. Mitchell's interactive editorial cartoons can be seen on the Excite site at

Contact: Jan Guszynski, TMS,

PBS show's Web site considers ad revenue stream

The Online NewsHour, the Web site of "The NewsHour with Jim Lehre" on the PBS television network, is considering the prospect of accepting advertising in order to defray the costs of operating the site. (The proposal does not include advertising on the public TV network news show.) The Newshour's management is soliciting comments on this proposal at this Web page:

Movin' On

Neal Fondren has been named to the new position of vice president for new media for Cincinnati-based newspaper chain E.W. Scripps Co. Fondren has been an executive with the media company's cable television division. In his new job, Fondren will coordinate Scripps' Internet ventures.


In a recent column about online city guide developer Digital City's emerging electronic classifieds strategy, it was stated that the Patriot-Ledger (Quincy, Massachusetts) is to be among the first to beta test DCI's classifieds technology (acquired and licensed from ClassiFACTS and Electric Classifieds Inc.). The newspaper is in talks with DCI about such a test, but there's no done deal yet.


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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