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MSN Previews Personalized News Search

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NewsBot, the personalized news search and aggregation service that MSN has been testing in a number of countries in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa has gone live in the United States.

The U.S. service, in conjunction with MSNBC, constantly tracks more than 4,800 news sources around the world, and aggregates the top stories into a categorized home page. In both design and sources of information, NewsBot is similar to Google news and other online news aggregators.

What sets NewsBot apart are the history and personalization features designed to help you easily find news relevant to your own interests. As you read stories, the site tracks the topics that you're interested in, suggesting similar stories in related areas.

The site captures no personal data other than the stories you've read. Recommendations for similar stories are made based on stories that other NewsBot users have read. "A great comparison is much like what Amazon does today," said Justin Osmer, product manager for MSN Search, citing Amazon's "Customers who bought this book also bought" feature.

Recommendations are located at the top of each page. Clicking the "why" link next to each recommended story explains the reasoning behind the suggestion. Recommended stories change based on the category you're viewing -- you'll see different stories in the "business" category and the "entertainment" category, for example.

The personalization is similar to that provided by Findory, a personalized news search engine that I wrote about last month.

NewsBot also displays a list of recently read stories at the bottom of each page in the "Your history" section. Click the "more history" link and you'll see a complete list of stories you've read, with the option to delete stories from your history that may be influencing your recommendations in ways that you don't like.

The site also provides a basic news search capability, allowing you to find stories based on keywords. Your search history is also saved, and is displayed under the search box on each page, making it easy to repeat a search for a topic that interests you.

Another interesting feature is the "daily we" section, which highlights the most popular stories based on what all NewsBot users are reading. Stories are given a popularity ranking, with lower numbers indicating a more popular story.

NewsBot is one of the newest components of Microsoft's overall strategy to build out its search capabilities. Osmer says that the company hopes to complete the beta testing of NewsBot sometime during the next year, building in new features and enhancements based on customer feedback received during the beta testing period.

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