Original reporting may be going the way of triceratops, but there is a lot of–or at least a lot of places to get–news. What can genuinely be called news is a debate subject for the ages: my Kardashian baby is your iPhone launch is his Egyptian revolution. But one thing is certain: today a piece of information rendered once is re-rendered a thousand times before the originating scribe (or videographer) reaches for her water glass. Is my opinion about the news also news? If you like my opinion it is–that’s how the news gets really big. And that’s why the roaring trend in news delivery is personalization–the process by which algorithmic magic shows you just the news you want to see, just when you want to see it. Companies are battling fiercely to aggregate your customized info package (and the ads that come with it). If the old media motto was “All the news that’s fit to print” then the new media mantra is “Just the stuff we think you’ll like.” One of these battling companies is Zite, recently eaten up by Time Warner, which might have actually delivered you these 2paragraphs. Or you may have got them from Pulse. Or maybe it’s a Facebook link you’ve followed. (Hey the reason Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer can buy any damn thing she fancies is because Yahoo! delivers more news than any other site except perhaps Google.)
But back to Zite. Zite has 40,000 interest topics to choose from. Now that may seem like a lot, but the ambitious app is surely adding more at this moment. Aggregator apps like this are often touted as being perfect for “news junkies.” The analogy is apt, because they give you a fix and keep offering you the same thing over and over, right? But what if there is something out there you don’t know you’re interested in? Will you remain forever in the dark, fed a stream of information based on the person you were yesterday? What if your reading habits encourage the algorithms to peg you as something you’re not–as in old comedy routines where a Tivo, working from a viewer’s choices, surmises that a straight character is gay? Zite has answers for such naive questions. It’s intelligent enough to extrapolate what you might be interested in because it doesn’t just learn from you, but from people who click like you. (An aside: won’t “click” go the way of “dial”? People tap these days.) Zite CEO Mark Johnson describes his app’s aggregation in a lofty-sounding sentence sure to resonate with anyone from Magellan fans to Zen Buddhists to NASA engineers: “One of the main powers of Zite,” Johnson says, “is discovery.” Discovery indeed. Aggregation remains in its infancy and will grow smarter. But already 40,000 categories–that’s more than four times the number of stars the naked eye can see from earth. Sure, most of us look up and see just the Big Dipper, maybe Orion. But that’s the way we used to see just five or six categories of news.