Watching Your Every Read
Three other sites take a more subtle approach to tuning news to your preferences by watching the stories you read. Google News may be the best known of these. After you log in with your Google ID, the site will monitor your news habits and Web searches, and tweak the articles it displays on its algorithmically generated Google News page. The personalized changes are slow to come and aren't explicitly marked, but the site does a remarkable job of highlighting the latest, most important news stories without human editors. Click the 'Standard News' link to see the difference between personalized and default pages.
Findory uses a similar tactic but allows you to add a list of sites you subscribe to. In surprisingly little time the site replaces its default, very scattershot array of stories with a lineup tailored to your interests. Findory gets better as you continue to use it, adding little symbols next to recommended stories. Clicking one of those icons takes you to a page that shows which story you previously read prompted the site to suggest the new article. Unfortunately, currently there's no way to let the site know which stories don't interest you.
You can do that, however, with Spotback, a site that debuted in May and offers several ways for you to adjust which stories you see. A slider bar lets you indicate how much you like each story on a scale of -5 to +5. Also, drop-down 'Less' and 'More' menus let you block a news source, category, or subcategory, or request more stories from it.
Spotback's excellent user interface puts a yellow background behind the stories you've read, and when you rate a story you get instant feedback: The site uses Ajax (a popular Web programming technique that employs behind-the-scenes browser requests to make Web sites feel more like desktop apps) to magically slot in a related story directly below the one you've just rated. Regrettably, Spotback falters on the matter of timeliness. The 'Computers and Internet' section sometimes features six- and seven-day-old stories--an eon in online news time.