October 22, 2009

Google Reader's Magic Finds Personalized Highlights In Feeds

If you're a normal carbon-based life form and not an always-on robot like me, you probably don't want to spend the entirety of your day dialed in to the Web, reading every single article in the fear that you might miss something. It might make more sense instead that you get the best of the Web, tailored just for you, sent your way - be that through the use of human filters, or through software that can determine what you like, either through explicit or implicit actions. Following the lead of My6sense, which debuted earlier this year, Google Reader introduced a new feature today, called "Magic" that finds the best offerings in your subscriptions and brings them to the surface. And it works! The service also increased the visibility of recommended feeds, and showed the most popular stories from around the Web - all part of making the RSS reader more personal.

(Note I also asked for these features way back in March of 2007.)

As Google Reader outlined in a blog post this afternoon, "The goal of personalization at Google remains the same as ever: to help you find the best content on the web."

When Sorted by "Magic", You Can See I Share Those Items Most

When Sorted by "New", The Items Are Less Relevant

Many people are intimidated by Reader's potential to get full. Complaints about seeing (1000+) atop the stream are everywhere - and while there are ways to sort by time or by individual source, it has not always been easy to find the stories that are most relevant to you - until today. With the addition of "sort by magic", Reader presents articles atop your to do list that most match your interests, no doubt gauged by your previous viewing history, and explicit actions, such as sharing.

As mentioned often here, I share about 30 items a day from the near 900 I go through. With "magic" enabled, I found myself sharing not just 3% of the first few articles but nearly half of them - and after having read through the offerings, displaying my activity in list mode showed that to be the case. No doubt as I continue to use the product, it too should get better.

In parallel, while away from the Web browser experience, I have been using My6sense on the iPhone to deliver a similar effect, presenting me with the most relevant and interesting items atop my feed. But the company's approach is not due to "explicit" actions, such as "likes" and "thumbs up" or "thumbs down", which many services use for personalization. Instead, the company uses "implicit" actions, including what I read, how long I spend reading it, whether I scroll to the end of the article, or whether I share it, to help improve my data.

Both approaches are looking to tackle the information overload mentality, making the feeds not so much "magic", but intelligent - which will become even more important as each of us subscribe to more streams of data.

Popular Items that Are Most Often Liked In Google Reader

You might also see some similarities between Google Reader's "most popular" section to that of services I've pushed on this site since the beginning of 2008, including the dormant ReadBurner (where I am an advisor) and RSSmeme. One Google Reader employee back in 2008 said this function would be "less interesting" as it just highlighted popular sources (including Engadget, the FAIL Blog and others), and so far, it looks to be the case - even if there may be an occasional pop from a lesser-known source.

I've recently begun an engagement with My6sense as part of the day job, and the more I talk with the company's founder and chairman, Barak Hachamov, the more the two of us believe that while there is a time for the wisdom of crowds, you can never overstate the importance of the individual. Both My6sense and Google Reader, especially with today's announcements, are working to do that.

So Was This The Item That Made My Head Explode? :)

FTC Disclosures: My6sense is a client of Paladin Advisors Group, where I am Managing Director of New Media. I am also an advisor to ReadBurner, and have met with the Google Reader team multiple times at their campus, where on at least two occasions, lunch was served. :)