Spotback Review

As reported on Techcrunch, a new personalizable news portal called Spotback was launched yesterday. This one aims to set itself apart from other sites by taking the items that you approve or disapprove (using a sliding scale), and using this feedback to recommend other articles that might be of interest to you. The other innovation is that you don’t have to log in and have an account in order to use a service – if you just want to try it out, it will track what you do with cookies.

Innovative features and things that I like:

  • When you approve a story to a certain level (on the sliding scale) the site takes your feedback and automatically adds a new story to match your preferences. Good use of AJAx here.
  • Full use of features without creating account – view your history, use your feedback to show you more of what you might like
  • All in ASP.net, with tastefully done AJAX (or ATLAS?). Site seems to be operating smoothly, thoughtfully designed.
  • I like the feature where you click More and get to view a DHTML onscreen popup showing the text of the entire article. Nice feature.

Unfortunately, that’s it for things that really stand out for me. The Web has a bunch of different sites already that take personal feedback to produce news. Although there is no real stand-out site right now that gives you personalized results, I don’t think that this site is there yet (I know that they are beta, and that they launched yesterday). So a little feedback on things that I didn’t like or things I feel could use improvement:

  • Although at first glance, the sliding scale is cool, I find that after using it about ten times it is getting old. When I like an article, I just move the sliding scale up. When I dont like it, I move it down. I don’t really take care to move it to the exact number that might apply (nor am I going to spend the time to figure out if I like the site 2.5 or 3.3). Digg-style voting (thumbs-up or thumbs-down) is much more intuitive and easy to use. Perhaps if you want to expand on this, have four buttons, ranging from -2 to +2. But the sliding scale doesn’t seem so affective right now.
  • Since you guys are into AJAX, could I have a drag-and-drop to position the categories the way that I see fit?
  • The categories themselves don’t seem to be so clearly defined (or at least the definitions are not intuitive). I am seeing web-design related articles in the Arts category not in Computers and Internet like I would think that it would apply. I know that I could say that I want to see more things in C&I and less in Art. But that is not true, I want to see more web-design and programming…but not more Arts (if that made sense).
  • I would like to see more stories on a page. Right now, with the two column layout, I see six stories on a screen when I load up a page. I know that this is similar to Digg (which shows five stories). I much prefer the Newsvine approach (at least 20-30 links). Perhaps in addition to your one-two column viewing options, you could add the option to view just the headlines (allowing more to fit on one page), or the headlines with snippets.
  • Although I like personalized news, I am also interested in seeing how other people ranked a story. I know that there are comments, but the more of a sense of community I can see, the more drawn to the site I will be.

Altogether, I think that the general implementation was done well and the site could catch on. However, my initial experience is not enough to make me add this to my list of frequented sites just yet (and with no RSS, it will be easy for it to drop off my radar completely).

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