Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Simulated Omniscience

Here's one of my current favorite sites: Newser. I've been using it for a month now and am pretty much addicted, in much the same way as reading the morning paper used to be a daily ritual for the great mass of people. For me it replaced USA Today (online), which I mostly read because it reminded me of staying in hotels on vacation. Before that I favored the automated news gathering of Google News.

Newser is essentially Google News with humans added. That doesn't sound terribly exciting I know, but the sum is more than the parts. The Newser staff perpetually peruses the news from countless online sites, picks out what they think are the most interesting stories, and whips up one or two paragraph summaries for each one. Using pictures with punchy headlines, news items are organized into a grid format so you can determine which summaries you want to look at. While enjoyable to read the summaries are politically neutral for the most part which is more than I can say for their editorial writer. Luckily he dwells in a separate box called "Off The Grid" and can easily be turned off.

In fact, the whole site is eminently customizable, from how many squares you prefer on your grid to a slider that controls the ratio of hard to fluffy news. There's a section for your local news, a list of the day's most popular stories, and a box showing which sources contributed the most news to Newser today. And several other features I don't use because I don't care if I commented on the most stories today and such like.

Now here's my dirty secret: sometimes I just read the summaries. They give a good synopsis of the real article, I've found, so I don't go on to read it unless it just tickles my fancy. After all, I can still rattle off Newser's abstract of current events when pressed, causing most people to assume I'm incredibly well-informed. Another mechanism for 21st century humans to feel omniscient when we're really not.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the shout out! You know, we're always looking for people to join our Product Council - a group of people who give us feedback on ideas we have to make Newser even better. If you're interested, drop me an note ( with your Newser user name and password, and I'll add you to the list. Thanks again and enjoy Newser!

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Pleonic said...

Sure, go right ahead!

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