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Earlier today I wrote about whether a news aggregator could be a success in the UK. Prospects are not good, and even Briton Nick Denton, founder of Gawker.com, says he wouldn't dare do it.

However, despite the pessimism, there exists an interest in giving it a try. The first major entrant into the UK news aggregation scene looks to be Cambridge-based Broadersheet.com.

What does Broadersheet.com have that other news aggregators don't? It's hard to say, since the public beta is still a few weeks away. But what it does have is loads of potential. The field for news aggregators in the UK is not very thick, so the opportunities for greatness certainly exist.

I asked CEO Peter Clark about why he decided to build a news aggregator, how he plans to make money and the challenges he faces.

Where did the idea for building a news content aggregator come from?

Reading news online sucks, and I've also had experience of blogging, it's absurdly hard to get your content out there in front of people that'll be interested in it. RSS Readers flood me with news, and there are too many websites for me to read all the ones I care about (imagine I cared about 20% of content on 250 websites..) So we came up with Broadersheet: a daily service that shows me all the content I need to know about. If news is important to me, it should find me.

From where you sit, what are the challenges facing people like yourself who are developing programmes and applications for news content aggregation?

Marketing / building something people want. Lots of aggregators died a death because they ran for a goal that was, quite frankly, stupid. A consumer RSS reader inherently has all the issues of RSS readers. We're also encouraging and pushing publishers to offer APIs and full text feeds and to work with us. 

A common argument is that aggregators are 'digital vampires' who make money off the backs of the content creators. What is your reaction to that?

It's bizarre. We're really pushing news services to offer APIs like The Guardian does, then we can collaborate and make monetize for both parties. News aggregators do solve lots of problems with online content, in a few years publishers will be kicking themselves for not encouraging this form of innovation.

Speaking of monetisation, could you speak a bit about how Broadersheet will make money? The media industry is falling apart in large part because of its heavy reliance on advertising to sustain it.  I understand that you currently have Angel funding. 

We're offering a B2B service where websites, say the Archant Group, can intelligently filter their content in a personalized manner for each of their users. Suddenly users aren't having to trawl through content they care about.  They're being shown all the content they need to know. From this advertising can be far more personalised. For our consumer proposition (which is more a tech demo of the cool tech we have) we're going to play with sponsored stories, techmeme.com style.

I've had a look at the beta version, and it's quite nice. I especially liked the option of canceling out certain stories from sources you don't like. Could you talk a bit about what was factored in when designing the UI?

We're gunning for a newspaper experience. You're shown news that's relevant to you, news that is important to you, and also discovering stories that you didn't think you cared about, but actually you do. That news discovery experience has been totally lost on the web.

Broadersheet seems to embrace the concept of user-centered content specialisation, where the user can determine exactly what they want to read, and who they want to read it from. How will Broadersheet advance this? Will you offer greater specialisation?

Yep. We'll learn in the background, all you'd have to do is point us in the right direction and we can predict what'll interest you. We can also (optionally) watch your online activity, which may be books you've bought on Amazon, Tweets you send, and even your travel schedule on Dopplr. All this can be analysed to work out what stories will matter to you.

There are other aggregators out there, however they do not seem to have fared very well in the long run. Why does Broadersheet have the gusto to go further?

I love marketing, and we're fanatical about a gorgeous user experience in a product that people want. I think that's a common problem with web stuff; the team gets 'blinkers' and goes down a route no one cares about. We're launching a public beta in a few weeks and we'll be all over the feedback we receive. 

Broadersheet will go live shortly. What is the development schedule like for adding features and potential redesigns?

The key to success on the web is iterating and responding to user feedback as quickly as possible . We can add, remove and tweak features far faster than any large organization. 

What will be Broadersheet's mobile presence?

We've got an iPhone application coming out at the same time as the website launch, which is about two months away. It's going to be awesome. Think of a newspaper, but personalized.

Ben LaMothe

Published 9 July, 2009 by Ben LaMothe

Ben LaMothe is a web & social media strategist with Florida-based advertising and marketing consultancy Renaissance Creative. You can follow him on Twitter.

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