Bespoke newspapers on the way


31 Aug 2007

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A service that enables users to create and publish personalised newspapers compiled from their favourite blogs and news sites is to be launched next week.

Jonas Martinsson, the Swedish creator of award-winning software FeedJournal, is planning to launch a web service for bloggers and other content providers to publish their writings in a newspaper or magazine-style format. The software automatically lays out the blog posts, creating a PDF newspaper without the need for designers or sub-editors that can be printed out.

Later this year Martinsson plans to launch another web service where ordinary net users can subscribe to their favourite RSS and Atom feeds and create their own personalised publications.

A desktop version of FeedJournal is already available for download from www.feedjournal.com including a 30-day trial.

Martinsson’s groundbreaking technology was recognised by Microsoft when it came first out of 1,500 entries in Microsoft’s ‘Made in Express Contest’ in 2006.

“FeedJournal serves as a content deliverer and presents information from whichever sources you want in a traditional format that was the default way of reading news for a very, very long time,” Martinsson told siliconrepublic.com.

“It empowers the user with the option of collecting multiple feeds to create a newspaper that is tailored for his or her own needs: with the local team’s results, the stock portfolio’s development or even personal email. It gives the user the possibility to choose the deadline to be the exact moment he or she wants, not six hours before it will actually be read.”

As well as choosing content, users can choose whatever paper size they prefer their newspaper on. Martinsson said a key advantage of the service is that it removes the monthly subscription fees regular newspapers charge for delivery. “You only need to pay for the actual content in case your favourite news source doesn’t provide it for free on the web already.”

Martinsson intends to make money from the service through subscriptions. “Once we are speaking of ad-based revenues the topic gets sensitive. I guess people have had enough of all blog-scraping where copyrighted content is stolen and put up on a site loaded with ads. FeedJournal is of course very different both in technique and spirit, but the connotations and bad vibes are still there when it comes to ad-based revenue from other people’s content.”

Martinsson is the only person on the market offering this type of technology right now and he expects these types of services to be widely available in the near future. He said he is already getting interest from newspapers and news distributors.

“I am in talks with several newspapers and news distributors who are interested to offer my services through their sites. I don’t see FeedJournal as having a negative impact on newspapers; it could be an additional service for them.”

The algorithms that determine how content from different web sources is presented in the PDF version are the bedrock of the technology. Ensuring good layout is vital to the success of the endeavour.

“This is not a trivial thing to solve and I am continuously working on optimising the algorithms that make this happen, making small adjustments,” he said. “All the complex heuristics that decide where each article goes, as well as when to split an article and continue it on a different page, took months of hard work to implement.

“One of the cornerstones of FeedJournal is to make everything as simple as possible for the end user. For power users, there are many parameters for customising the layout, like fonts, page size, number of paragraphs, white space and so on.”

Martinsson foresees an eventual decline in ‘dead-tree’ versions of newspapers and envisages services like FeedJournal being ideal for e-ink/e-paper technologies that are currently being developed by the likes of Philips and Sony.

By Niall Byrne

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