Techmeme Gives Up on Fully Automated News

December 4th, 2008 at 12:00 am
 


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Technology news aggregator Techmeme is giving up on automated news gathering in favor of a more human approach.

Automation is always the key when it comes to computers. In fact computers came about because of the human being’s need and lust for automation. So as computer systems evolved to the present day, automation is always the goal.

However, computers are never as smart as humans. AI systems are being developed to mimic the human train of thought but until now nothing compares to good ol’ brain matter. This is apparent even in the blogging arena. Many aggregators sift through news automatically and they produce a lot of results. Some results however are irrelevant and make it to the rankings simply because of keywords. And since the computer cannot actually read and understand written words and what they mean, they still rely on humans to pick up what’s relevant.

This is exactly what Techmeme is heading into. After 3 years of existence and relying on mostly robots to sift through millions of articles a day, Techmeme will now be integrating the human touch to their algorithm.

"Humans have always edited Techmeme of course, just implicitly. For instance, when a blogger links to a story, the headline might move higher on Techmeme. What’s different now is that an additional human editor will carry out changes explicitly to directly improve the mix of headlines on Techmeme. Though the implicit edits conveyed via algorithm outnumber the explicit edits perhaps by 1000 to 1 or more, the impact of the human editor is nonetheless pronounced. What will that effect be?

The news will just get faster and more interesting. Obsolete stories will be eliminated sooner while breaking stories will be expedited. Related grouping will improve. Most of this will happen only on Techmeme, though other sites (like memeorandum and WeSmirch) will increasingly benefit from the direct human touch as well."

This raises the question on whether Techmeme will become bias since there are humans involved. Well, they have an answer to that too. Technically it’s not very convincing but, whatever.

"If that question makes any sense to you, you’re probably a frustrated blogger. Otherwise, feel free to skip to the next section! I’d like to note here that Techmeme isn’t fair because life isn’t fair, and Techmeme will always be biased because humans have built Techmeme. And because news judgement, by definition, is bias. For background, please see this post from last year in which I state "Techmeme is biased".

Ultimately, Techmeme will succeed based on whether it interests a significant readership. While fairness and balance probably affect this interest, I need to stress that bloggers will never agree on what’s fair. Why not? To generalize and perhaps exaggerate somewhat, many bloggers feel that in the fairest scenario, Techmeme prominently features all of their posts. So it’s hard to be fair."