Making the News Personal
The staff at News360 wanted to go global with a news service that could be personalized to user preferences and delivered to different mobile and desktop platforms. Since launch, they’ve had more than 2.5 million
users on multiple continents download their app, which runs on Windows 8, Windows Phone, and other smartphone and tablet devices, and is supported by powerful Windows Azure cloud services.
The founders of News360 had a simple but challenging goal in mind: Create an application that can help users sift through information overload to get the news of the day that interests them the most.
Roman Karachinsky, a voracious consumer of online information, was well aware of the problem.
“My colleagues and I want to be informed citizens and to know what’s going on around the world and in our industry,” says Karachinsky, Chief Executive Officer of News360. “But we’re awash in online content, and it’s getting harder and more time consuming by
the day to find the content that each person is most interested in. I was spending an hour and half daily trying to read all of the news sources that I followed. If I went on vacation, it got backed up to hundreds or thousands of unread articles. It was simply
too much work.”
Karachinsky and his colleagues had great expertise that they could bring to the challenge. In a prior project, they had developed sophisticated algorithms and other technologies to perform news and reputation analyses—a valuable commodity for businesses concerned
about their online presence and reputations.
“We turned our attention to how this could be used to help people find the news they want on their personal devices,” says Karachinsky.
Semantic Analysis to Simplify News Delivery
The basics of how the application would function were clear. First, content would be gathered from news sites across the Internet, and then users’ interests would be analyzed and deduced from their preferences and behavior on social sites such as Facebook and
Twitter. Using the semantic analysis technology that Karachinsky and his colleagues had developed, News360 would deliver custom content based on a user’s preferences.
“But to make the application a success,” adds Karachinsky, “we needed a powerful, scalable platform that could deliver a great user experience on popular mobile devices and PCs, and could handle the volume of user traffic and information we hoped to achieve.”
The News360 team was experienced in Windows development, and chose an end-to-end Windows environment for the New360 application. The application is available on Windows 8 and Windows Phone, and uses Windows Azure as the cloud platform to support the application
and its users across multiple countries. The application, which is also available on iOS and Android devices, has more than 2.5 million users.
Analyzing 250,000 Sources—In Real Time
A big part of the application’s success stems from the sophisticated technology that lies beneath it.
The solution includes a proprietary linguistic analysis engine that looks at more than 250,000 source articles every day in real time. It also culls information from more than 1 million different companies, people, and locations, and looks at the locality and
topics that every article covers. It collects articles into story clusters and then gathers visuals to accompany stories.
Users start their preferences by choosing among a few dozen high-level topics, such as “politics,” “food,” “fashion,” or “travel.” This initial selection then generates a personalized feed made up of these and other topics.
“In terms of how we use sematic analysis, we have come a long way since our initial efforts,” says Karachinsky. “We currently have more than 1 million ‘concepts’ that we identify under broad categories such as humor or politics. The real power behind News360
is our personalization engine, which drives a real-time news feed for individuals based on their patterns of behavior and their specific preferences. The more they read, the better News360 gets at understanding what is relevant and interesting to the specific
user. It becomes really smart about what you want to see.”
Supported by a Comprehensive Platform
The other key to the success of News360 is the comprehensive Windows platform used to build and support it.
The company partnered with Microsoft for the Windows 8 launch, and the application has been a leading title in the Windows 8 Marketplace and the Windows Phone Store.
“We were closely involved in Windows 8 from the beginning because it is such a good platform for an application like ours, which is designed around an easy-to-use touch-based interface,” Karachinsky says. “Windows 8 features like charms and live tiles are a
natural fit for News360. It’s highly appealing to users.”
To reach its geographically broad audience, News360 benefits from the multiple data centers that Microsoft provides around the world through Windows Azure.
“From a business perspective, Windows Azure has played an important role for us because it’s cost-effective and scales easily to handle demand,” says Shavkat Aynurin, Chief Technology Officer of News360. “And the fact that Microsoft offers numerous hosting
locations around the world is important for our business plan. It helps us provide better application performance for users in specific regions.”
News360 received development and design assistance through the Microsoft BizSpark One program and another program that helped create the Windows Phone version.
“We rely on Windows to help us deliver a great service to our users, both in our infrastructure and in our apps,” says Karachinsky. “Microsoft has been a great partner for us, and the continual enhancements to its products will only serve to make ours stronger.”