Customizing Your Online News

One of the "problems" with online news is that there's so much of it. Simply keeping up with your favorite news sites, let alone finding time for new resources, is enough to inflict a severe case of information overload on even the heartiest searcher.

Fortunately, there are sites that let you create your own customized view of the news. For example, most of the major news sites offer some degree of customization for their own stories. But if you want a broader perspective, the sites we're going to describe today let you pull in snippets of news from all over the web, aggregating everything for easier access.

CRAYON (CReAte Your Own Newspaper)

Crayon was one of the Web's first sites to offer an aggregation service, and it's still one of the best, thanks to its ease of use. To create your "own" newspaper, simply sign up for a free account and select the sources you want to include.

There are hundreds of online newspapers to choose from, ranging from those with world coverage like the International Herald Tribune to local papers like the Maysville Ledger-Independent. You can also include specialized sources, with topics including politics, business, weather, religion, sports and so on.

The list of sources is ordered by popularity -- a nice touch that shows you what other Crayon readers have included in their papers.

Your Crayon paper is displayed in two frames. On the left is a list of links to the sources you've selected. Clicking any of these links displays the news site in the right frame. Your customized "paper" is actually just a list of links that makes it easy to access your favorite sites. But this simplicity is actually quite powerful and appealing once you've tweaked your sources to get exactly what you want.


Quickbrowse automates the process of loading selected web sites into your browser window, "joining" them into a single long page. The program works in a number of ways. You can create your own "newsstand" by selecting and saving a list of your favorite news sites that load automatically. You can also create a customized list of "cherry picked" portals based on your interests (sports, comics, tech, etc).

The program also lets you rapidly scan headlines, clicking those that interest you and building your full page in another browser window running in the background, or, alternately, delivering the stories to you via email.

Quickbrowse has a nifty feature for searchers, too -- the ability to do a metasearch on a number of the web's most popular search engines and specify how many result pages you want returned. Rather than being limited to 10, 20 or even 100 results, Quickbrowse will fetch the exact number of results pages you want, sparing you the need to click the "next results" link to get additional pages.

Unlike the other services reviewed here, Quickbrowse is fee-based. Subscriptions are $12.95 for three months, but there is a free 14-day trial available. If you find yourself spending a lot of time manually loading the same sites each day, Quickbrowse is probably worth the cost given the savings in time it provides.


Like Quickbrowse, MyOctopus allows you to aggregate content from multiple sources in a single browser window. But rather than a single long page, MyOctopus uses "views" in the form of multiple windows that can be opened, closed and dragged around within your browser.

Views can be made up of virtually anything -- web pages, headlines, search forms -- even email, contacts and calendar information from Microsoft Outlook.

The idea is to provide a single location for everything you need for a particular task or information need. It takes a bit of effort to learn how to assemble and customize views, but it's well worth the time. Once you've created a view, you can save it as a Favorite View.

To help you get started, Octopus provides eight "starter" view templates. For example, the "Start My Day" template includes a view that lets you access a Yahoo email account, news headlines from Moreover, a search form that does a metasearch on Yahoo, Excite and Google, and a form that lets you get weather information from

Each of these views can be customized -- you can add or delete news sources, search engines, and the type of weather information retrieved, for example. And it's easy to add other views -- stock information, a job search form from, or even entire web pages.

Octopus has numerous other features that should appeal to the power user who wants maximum control over customized online information sources.


NewsIsFree collects headlines from 2068 sources around the web. It's an excellent resource for browsing both news sites and weblogs. The site also provides "Aggregations" of content, as well as browseable "News Channels" that function essentially as a directory of different types of news, organized by category, name and date.

Registered users can manage the appearance of the site (language, displayed pages etc.). You can also opt out newschannels or languages you don't want to see anymore. Registration is free, but you're required to reveal some highly personal details in the process. The privacy policy and terms of service agreement appear to limit the use of this information so that your personal information is not shared, but some may feel more comfortable forgoing the registration process and simply using the ample features available to guests.

Tomorrow: A personal take on a few sources providing alternative points of view on the news -- with a particular emphasis on those trying to make sense of the changes in the world over the past month.

Search Headlines

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

LookSmart to Offer Customers Comprehensive Campaign Analytics...
Yahoo Oct 17 2001 11:09AM GMT
ATG Adds AltaVista Vet... Oct 17 2001 9:39AM GMT
Anti-terrorist laws call for a record of all email and web use... Oct 17 2001 8:55AM GMT
China unblocks news Web sites...
CNN Europe Oct 17 2001 1:39AM GMT
MSNBC launches Arabic news site...
ZDNet Oct 16 2001 6:26PM GMT
Microsofts MSN plans to step up rivalry with AOL...
Seattle Post-Intelligencer Oct 16 2001 1:21PM GMT
A Closer Look at Weblogs... Oct 16 2001 11:59AM GMT
Pop-up ads influence Web rankings...
ZDNet Oct 16 2001 11:46AM GMT
Google Says in Content Pact With AT&T Wireless... Oct 16 2001 11:45AM GMT
Excite cuts staff, stops ad sales...
National Post Online Oct 16 2001 11:01AM GMT
Online Music Probe Expands...
Washington Post Oct 16 2001 5:15AM GMT
Brills Content Closes; Is Cut Back...
New York Times Oct 16 2001 4:13AM GMT
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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.