Microsoft Corp. wants to be your electronic paperboy.
The software behemoth has debuted a pilot service at MSNBC.com that automatically assembles news summaries, partly personalized for each visitor.
MSN Newsbot (newsbot.msnbc.msn.com) looks a lot like Google News, another automatically generated headline-gathering service. Google News continually scans 4,500 online sources to find fresh news articles; Microsoft scans 4,800 sites and updates its summary pages every 10 minutes.
Like Google, MSN Newsbot groups together headlines about the same topic from a variety of sources, making it easier to compare alternate accounts.
MSN Newsbot, however, also remembers what you read (using browser cookies to track use instead of requiring you to sign in to Microsoft's Passport service) and presents stories it thinks might interest you in a special box. Moreover, it shows what other stories earlier readers of a news item clicked through to.
"As you read the site and click on more articles, the Newsbot will start to learn your habits and offer up more information related to what you have read," said Justin Osmer, MSN product manager.
Another key difference between the Microsoft and Google services is that Google's story-selection formula doesn't favor any particular new source. MSN Newsbot, by contrast, gives favorable placement to articles from Microsoft's own MSNBC.com news site -- late Friday afternoon, half of Newsbot's 22 front-page stories came from MSNBC.com.
Osmer didn't appear aware of this preferential treatment in an interview, but an MSN spokeswoman later confirmed it in e-mail.
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