Free online news is everywhere. Headlines are even available on a mobile phone. Tasty apps like Flipboard, Pulse, and Zite deliver a stream of frequently updated stories. CBS, CNN, MSNBC, and USA Today provide one-click access to Miley Cyrus’ latest PR stunt to all, regardless of interest. Most of these services offer information without requiring the user to register or pay for access.
Microsoft has been struggling to generate as much Web traffic as Google. In September 2013, Microsoft changed the logo for the Bing News Service and revamped the site’s approach to content. TechEYE.net ran a story with a headline which gave me a bit of a shock: “Microsoft Downgrades MSN News Service.” With Microsoft’s increased emphasis on Bing, it makes little sense to offer a competing news service via the MSN portal. The TechEYE report explains that Microsoft MSN News drew 100 million visitors a month. My interpretation of the TechEYE analysis is that MSN News is likely to remain on a downward trajectory. At the same time, Bing News will be enhanced with what eWeek called “a more modern, responsive user interface that retains its focus on photos and imagery.” In-depth news at Microsoft seems to be out of step with users who want nuggets, pictures, and videos for smartphones and tablets.
Google and Yahoo news services provide headlines. Some stories lead to lists of articles from other current news sources and to video content. With Web traffic mirroring the 1% versus the 99% set up of the US economy, most of those looking for news will rely on large services like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo.
However, in the 99% of news sites, there are some quite useful sources for information. Very useful services are available to a business person wanting information from sources other than the Associated Press, BloombergBusinessweek, Reuters, and major US newspapers.
Let me highlight a handful of the services which make it possible to get a broader perspective on a news story. For content not available in English, I suggest you use Google Translate to convert Farsi, German, or Russian into a language you know. For now, Google Translate is available without charge, but that could change, of course.
Newsnow. This is a UK based service which offers a free and a commercial version of its service. Navigate to www.newsnow.co.uk. With a single click you can select a stream of stories in English from the US, UK, and other countries’ English-language news content. A search box makes it possible to search a 30 day back file of content. When you click on a story to read, Newsnow redirects you to the source’s Web site. Sometimes a story will not be available. In that case, you can navigate to the source directly and search for the story on the Web site’s server. One of the most useful features of Newsnow is that it makes it explicit when a story was available on the service. As new stories arrive, older stories are pushed down in the result list. The free service is ad supported and works like a live demonstration of some of the features of the for-service offered to commercial customers. My research team rates the service at four out of five stars.
Another useful service is World News. Navigate to www.wn.com. You will see a splash page which shows the major stories of the moment. The service is extremely useful because a query returns results which date back to 2001. In order to access the back file, you will have to click past the video news story and narrow the query to the “News” category in the left-hand sidebar. Once the page refreshes, you will see a date ordered list of headlines, the source, and a snippet from the news story. Unlike HNGN, World News includes content in French, German, Hindi, Indonesian, Italian, Persian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Non-English news is available from Google, but you have to run your query in the language of the Google index you want to access; for example,www.google.fr and use French or www.google.de and use German. World News lets you do your research from a single Web site. My research team rates the service at four out of five stars.
TheBigProject is one of those 1995-style sites which are largely overlooked by today’s online user. Point your browser at www.thebigproject.co.uk. You will see a very large, single page with hundreds of hot links to news services. Of particular value is the list of European news sources in English. In addition, there are links to global news sources in a wide range of languages. Google Translate can make an unfamiliar language understandable, but the translation is not letter perfect. The interface is dated. The upside of TheBigProject is that like HNGN, the Google Custom Search system generates results. My research team rated this service at four out of five stars.
Silobreaker is a for-fee service. A trial subscription is available. The system provides access to a wide range of news from Web logs, commercial services, and government entities. The Silobreaker search returns results which are quite useful. First, the system processes content in the major languages and includes an on-the-fly translation function. If you get a news story in Farsi, a mouse click renders the story in English. Second, Silobreaker includes a relationship map showing the connections of individuals named in news stories to companies and one another. Third, if you search for a person, Silobreaker displays a map that pinpoints the last known location of the individual. My research team rated this system five out of five stars.
When does a business person shift from mainstream news services (AOL, Bing, Google, etc.) and use a less well known service? There are no hard-and-fast rules that apply to every business person looking for information. My team and I identified some broad guidelines which you can consider in terms of your own information needs.
First, if you are looking for mainstream coverage of well known companies and people, the Google-style services will do the job. However, if you are looking for people or companies outside the US, you will want to tap services which include non-US content.
Second, if you want to verify a fact, you will need to use a service which has a back file. World News is useful for this purpose. If you do not find what you need, you will want to consider signing up for a commercial service like Silobreaker, LexisNexis, or one of the other professional information systems. Free works reasonably well, but for some information, commercial services save a researcher time.
Third, if you need information about the context in which a company or person works, you will want to tap into a business intelligence centric system. Silobreaker has already been mentioned. You may want to explore Cluuz.com, developed by a former Israeli armed forces officer.
An important point to keep in mind is that a large amount of information is generated everyday. News services can only process of fraction of the available content. Some news services aggressively filter stories which contain certain words or phrases. US news services may not cover stories which are important outside the US but of little interest to the average American online user. Despite challenges, it is possible to find a news service that will more or less meet your information needs by using the information above.