People read the news, to stay aware. They believe knowing the news gives them a better chance at predicting their own near future. Knowing better helps them take better decisions. Can one build a system that understands you better, and predicts the things that matter to you – and brings you news around that? Yes, we are close, at pugmarks.me.

We call this “anticipatory news discovery”. Pugmarks anticipates the kind of news you need, based on the signals we have about you – from your reading, searching, emails, and brings the news that matters.

Now, before we delve into how we make this work, here’s a taste of how news recommendations look for me, and why?

1) I wrote an email to someone, requesting a meeting for a demo. Here’s a snap of the email:

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A few moments later, this was waiting on my “New Tab” on my Chrome Browser.

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Lo! I just found out about how the space is hotting up, in a unique way. This “news” is useful to me. I had to read about it. Infact, this news was so important, I shared it with the entire team and my board.

In the next few moments, I had this – waiting on my New Tab.

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What’s the connection? Aviate is launched in Private Beta. Why do products consider launching in Private Beta? There’s been a long debate running on whether private beta is a good strategy towards a product launch. Here’s a good article for me – for further reading. Notice, how Pugmarks tries to explain why something was picked up.

2) I was catching up with news on my social media, and found this excellent recommendation by Dorai on Twitter:

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A few moments later, on my New Tab, I had this:

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3) Say, I am meeting Mike Moritz. I’ll most likely Google him and get to his LinkedIn Profile.

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A few moments later, I have this on my New Tab. Helpful advice on how I should position myself.

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4) Pugmarks is a moving window of your context, that predicts what’s running through your mind, and brings news that may be of use to you. Now that I am writing this blog, what do you think is the right news for me? Here’s how my New Tab looks:

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I am writing about News. This is a blog – with an obvious intent to draw attention. Pugmarks brings me people relevant to the news space, and talks about their opinions. It also tells me how to be writing evergreen content.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is “Anticipatory News Discovery”. Let’s dive deeper.

Everyday, at work or otherwise, you are going through many contexts. You are watching movies, your favorite TV show, catching up on news, searching for material, communicating with people. Embedded in each of these are ideas that you care about. These are on top of your mind, and you would like to be kept aware about them. Anticipatory News Discovery is about predicting the ideas that are on top of your mind, by analyzing the footprints you lead in the digital world (your pugmarks), and bringing news that can be of help. Think of it as a news companion, that observes you – and suggests “Hey, you should know about this”.

What does it take to do anticipatory news discovery?

Say, you were extremely curious about the movie Gravity, searched for it, visited IMDB and the Wikipedia page for trivia. We can predict that you may be a film buff, and give you something around associated topics. We can also predict you may like to know a bit more about the physics of the earth itself, and lead you to good picks.

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This is educated serendipity. Its not the same obvious links on gravity the movie, but concepts potentially associated with it, that can lead you to serendipity.

Anticipatory News Discovery is about you. The need to be aware is about your personality, and this is constant in any facet of your life. Anticipatory news should help in aspects of your life, at work, at home, at leisure, during travel, etc. It involves building a moving model of your taste and context. Your interests are high on gravity today. In a week, its something else. You don’t have time to personalize your news feeds. My personalized news feeds from all the news engines out there only talk about social media, startups, product design and data mining. I have dynamic interests, that spike and go down the next day. News discovery should be reactive to the contexts you are in. News discovery should not lock you in a “filter bubble“.

Its not news, if you already know about it. One of the biggest challenges in automated news mining is making novel suggestions. For every topic that is deemed important to you, Pugmarks does several checks before it decides on that one card that is shown.

1) News first: Pugmarks first tries to check if there’s more “news” to that topic (things that have been published recently). A guess is made if this “news” is already known to you. If not, its show-worthy.

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2) Trending correlations: If a relevant topic is strongly correlated to something else in the recent times, then the connection is brought to the fore. Eg: The connection between NSA to voter registration,

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3) Popular on topic: Next, it looks for articles that have been popular on the topic. Popular articles are especially useful if the topic is unfamiliar. Popularity is deduced from social media endorsements on that article.

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4) Social search: If no good popular articles are available, Pugmarks looks for interest or endorsements in your social circles. If your friend has shared a good one on the movie Gravity, thats shown – along with his endorsement.

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5) If every heuristic mentioned thus far is exhausted, Pugmarks searches its entire index to bring forth good articles.

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Note: All of these examples are from real contexts.

Anticipatory news discovery should be diverse, novel and add value.

There’s more, when you add time and form factor into this equation.

On mobile, you would like short nuggets – helpful facts that you can consume on the go. You are mostly in commute, running to a meeting, or just waiting. You have short attention span.

On a tablet, you are in discovery mode, may prefer long form content; and something that caters to your long term interests and perhaps leisure.

On a desktop, you are mostly focused, trying to be productive. You want actionables that help you take decisions.

Then, there’s time. What if you return to the news page after a long gap? Should you still be getting news for something that was in your mind 6 hours back? What is show-worthy now?

What are the touch points for anticipatory news discovery?

Anticipatory news is not the same as news. Its news worth knowing based on something you’ve been going through. Its not the same as personalized news – that tracks your long term interests. Sometimes, you may not ‘remember’ to check this. Sometimes, you should be notified. When, where and how?

At Pugmarks, we’ve taken a design decision to be wherever your mind is thinking about ‘What next?’.

This is the New Tab on your Chrome browser. Or when you click on the url bar on our mobile browser app (coming soon). When you are in clean slate, its likely you’ll like news recommendations. They reach you faster than you clicking on the app, or visiting a web site. They are not intrusive – like notifications.

We have a long way to go in solving this deeply interesting problem – which we believe is the future of search. We thank all our early adopters who have helped us learn and fine tune our algorithms. We invite more of you to try us out at http://pugmarks.me.

Bharath

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