Facebook compiles the things your friends do that matter to them -- the famous people they've met, the lunches they've eaten, and the exotic vacations they've taken.
Newsle showcases the things your friends do that actually matter.
The news aggregator, which launched in beta earlier this year, scours the web for mentions of your Facebook and LinkedIn contacts to offer a customized daily diet of news stories about the people who matter most to you, from cousins and colleagues to celebrities and intellectuals.
With Newsle, there's a filtering process that refines the information you see about the people you follow: If something they did wasn't important enough for someone to write about, it's not important enough to be in your Newsle. It's voyeurism and gossip, all in one: Through its stories, we learn more about the people in our life -- and what others are saying about them.
No, it's not a substitute for your favorite news outlet. But it could be a substitute -- or at least a supplement -- for a social network you feel has been overrun by needless updates from hundreds of people you can't quite remember how you know or why you follow. In the age of information overload, in which our friends and followers are flooding our feeds with life clutter, Newsle's attempt to pinpoint the important stuff offers a much-needed alternative to the overwhelming -- and sometimes increasingly irrelevant -- tidal wave of updates.
"With Newsle, there's no social news, only real news," said Axel Hansen, co-founder of Newsle, who notes that he and his partner, Jonah Varon, have cut back their use of Facebook and Twitter because the sites become so noisy.
"There's so much news we don't care about, like what friends have to say about themselves or what they had for breakfast," Hansen said. "But if someone else took the time to write about them, that's more real than a tweet or status message."
Newsle also succeeds by exploiting (and satisfying) our obsession with individuals. While most other personalized news aggregators organize their stories by topic, offering feeds on "tech" or "politics," Newsle focuses on people, whose comings, goings, sayings and doings are the input for its algorithmically-generated list of stories. The model presents a forward-thinking concept of news that's driven entirely by personalities. Facebook and People magazine would no doubt argue that's a solid bet.
"Our goal is to help you find out when your network is doing important stuff," Hansen said. "Our goal is not necessarily to get you news that matters in the world, but news that matters about your people and that helps you to understand your people."
Of course, the site's emphasis on individuals means that Newsle isn't likely to showcase the latest on the war in Afghanistan or tornadoes in Dallas, unless a friend of yours happened to be quoted in the local paper. Hansen and Varon caution that their aggregator isn't intended to replace traditional news sites.
"If people get all their news from Newsle, it's going to be terrible," Varon said. "They won't know what's happening in the world."
Your personalized digest of stories can be accessed on Newsle's website, or via a daily email that boasts an impossible-to-resist-subject line littered with your friends' names -- think something along the lines of "News about [your ex], [the colleague you compete with], [your favorite musician], [your high school sweetheart]." Newsle pulls in stories about people in your Facebook and LinkedIn networks, or offers the flexibility to follow public figures in categories such as "journalists," "comedians," "actors" and "intellectuals." At its most basic, it's an evolved version of Google Alerts.
The company scans half a million articles online daily for the 4 million (and counting) people its users follow, and largely succeeds at distinguishing between individuals with common names. Newsle also faces the challenge of weeding out duplicate articles to ensure it isn't showing a dozen stories about the same Stephen Colbert video. Hansen noted that three quarters of the material published online about President Barack Obama is "in some way a duplicate."
So how well does it work? The site is extremely intuitive and easy to use, and the mix of stories regularly showcases a diverse group of people, without delivering too many stories about any one character in my network. Note, however, that it's likely to be more useful for people with only a smattering of journalist friends, as reporters' bylines oftentimes get confused for mentions in the news (Varon and Hansen say they're working on this). Some stories offer little more than a passing mention of what someone has done, but Newsle passed the basic test that should be applied to any news aggregator or social network: I learned new things I cared about and wouldn't have seen otherwise -- and I kept coming back for more.