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The Personal Bee, a news site that makes a comeback

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The Personal Bee is a Berkeley start-up that lets users organize news in their area of interest, so that others can read it.

It is chock-full of the latest Web 2.0 features, and is worth taking a look at.

Rather than forcing you to rely on what the wider community of readers decide is important news, which is what Digg and Memeorandum do, Personal Bee lets "beekeepers" do the deciding, and gives you the beekeeper the infrastructure to organize and filter news however frequently you want. Anyone can become a beekeeper (though it is still in testing mode, so you have to request). Meanwhile, other readers can sit back and enjoy the beekeeper's filter.

We criticized The Personal Bee service a few weeks ago, saying it wasn't ready for prime time -- and wondering why it had launched in such poor form.

Turns out, Personal Bee hadn't intended to be outed, and the site we pointed to was an older version. Now the site has launched for real (though still in beta), and it is looking much better, even if it has a few minor bugs.

Take, for example this Personal Bee for venture capital, created by Pamela Mahoney, who works for venture capital firm Mohr, Davidow Ventures. Pamela has decided which VC news sources she wants to read and let others read. In setting up her Bee, she has pulled those sources automatically into the page via RSS. The Personal Bee software then reads through the news sources, and picks out the most repeated words/phrases of the day.

It also takes the news item that has the buzziest word/phrase, and makes it the default article on the top of the page. When another news item arrives with that word/phrase, that item in turn is pushed to the top.

You can get an overview of the buzziest word/phrases by looking at the "tag cloud" on the left-hand column. Note that today, the word "Fenton" is the most popular word/phrase -- because of news circulating lately that venture capitalist Peter Fenton has left Accel to join Benchmark. (This may change by the time you read this).

The system takes into consideration a mix of other factors when considering what is the "buzziest" story, too. If a Beekeeper has consistently ranked a news source higher than others, that news source is favored, for example. A Beekeeper can also overrule The Personal Bee's buzziest ranking entirely, by picking out a specific story she likes, and making it the featured story of the day. The Beekeeper can manually give say, five stars to story, which also boosts its rank.

Check out the list of Personal Bees on the left hand side of the main page. There were 41 bees already launched a month ago, when we first talked with the company -- and there are probably more today.

A navigation bar follows from The Personal Bee as you click on stories from the site. If you register, and are logged on to the Personal Bee, you can surf elsewhere on the Web and annotate a Web page by going to the navigation page and typing in a tag for that story. The page is then categorized under that tag back on your Personal Bee page. (There is also a separate widget plug-in that lets you tag stories so that they are placed as a news item on your blog).

Even without being logged in, a navigation bar followed us when we selected stories from within a Bee. When we clicked on the featured SiliconBeat story from within the Venture Capital Bee, for example, it took us to our story about Fenton, but it kept us "trapped" still within the Personal Bee site. But then we discovered an orange "close button" on the right-hand side of the navigation bar, and were able to get to SiliconBeat directly (a slight hassle, though chief executive Ted Shelton says he is studying whether there is a better way to do this).

How does it make money? The Personal Bee writes a cookie to your browser, which sees the news that you are reading. The cookie is operated by a third-party company, called Revenue Science, which collects information about you from other sites you travel too. All this information helps Revenue Science serve up ads to other publishers -- ads that are specific to what the system perceives your interests are. (ABC News, ESPN, Financial Times, Newsweek all serve the same Revenue Science cookie, so Personal Bee is not exceptional here).

Revenue Science serves up ads on other Web sites that you surf, but not on Personal Bee, which has decided not to run ads. The Personal Bee allows you to opt out of its cookie tracking system. Basically, though, it wants to make money by being paid by Revenue Science for the ads that are served up elsewhere. CEO Shelton told us he wants to give Beekeepers a percentage of this revenue. Surprisingly, too, he thinks this arrangement with Revenue Science will pay for his entire costs. (He's got a core team of only six employees, he says, so costs are pretty low).

Personal Bee and Revenue Science are both backed by Pamela Mahoney's firm, Mohr Davidow, so there is a connection.

Separately, Personal Bee is also letting bloggers use the Personal Bee technology to run news items on their own blogs, say when they are on vacation. There is a javascript widget that the blogger can put on their site that lets them pull news items from any public Bee, and makes it compatible with the blogger's own post format. You can get instructions on how to do that here.


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