The news curation game gets another entrant as the WaPo’s former owner relaunches Trove

You might think the news-recommendation space is a little crowded, what with giant social networks like Twitter and Facebook as well as dedicated services like Prismatic, Zite and News360 — all of which are aimed at helping you filter the oceans of content we are drowning in. The former owners of the Washington Post, however, believe the market is still searching for the perfect news-curation app, and they think they’ve come up with it: it’s called Trove, and it launched on Wednesday as an iOS app and web-based service.

Trove is part of Graham Holdings, the investment arm of the Graham family, which sold the Washington Post to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (s amzn) last year for $250 million. The new venture’s CEO is Vijay Ravindran, who is also chief digital officer of Graham Holdings, and one of the key players behind the new service — Trove’s chief strategist and head of product — is Rob Malda, better known to some as “CmdrTaco,” founder of the online community Slashdot.

Ravindran said Trove is designed to help users curate and share their favorite content in a kind of news-focused social network, very much like the one that Prismatic has been trying to build for several years. What makes their service different, the founders say, is that the focus is not on the content but on the “curator” who pulls it together. “If Trove is about anything, it’s about connecting people to curators who are experts or enthusiasts in a particular subject,” said Malda.


Building communities of interest

The service is launching with some “star curators,” Ravindran said, including Top Chef contestant Spike Mendelsohn, Kris Humphries — a power forward with the Boston Celtics — technology advisor Vivek Wadwha and the members of StiffJab, a Tumblr focused on mixed martial arts. Ravindran and Malda said users will be encouraged to become curators because they want to share their knowledge, and the service is thinking of ways to help them connect with their followers and build a community around their interests.

If the name of the new service sounds familiar, it’s because something called Trove was launched in 2010 by the WaPo Labs unit of the Washington Post. Trove was designed to act as a news-recommendation engine powered by algorithms, but while it gained some loyal users, it never developed a lot of traction (although Ravindran said that the service’s algorithms still help power the recommended story module on the Washington Post‘s website).

As the Post‘s interest in social curation evolved, Trove and its algorithms eventually became the foundation of the newspaper’s SocialReader, a Facebook app aimed at encouraging users to share the paper’s content that launched in 2011. Although it accumulated millions of readers, SocialReader declined after Facebook changed its algorithm and started ranking the service’s links much lower.


Now, Ravindran said the guts of both SocialReader and Trove have been refashioned into the new Trove, with the more social or community element of individual curators added to the original algorithm-based approach. Anyone who signed up for SocialReader will automatically be converted into a user of the new Trove, Ravindran said, and the company’s current user base accounts for about 2 million unique visitors a month on mobile and web.

The service that Trove seems the most similar to is Prismatic, which also recently relaunched with a much more social and user-focused approach. Like Prismatic founder Bradford Cross, Ravindran talks about how existing networks like Facebook and Twitter force users to restrict what they share to certain specific topics they have become known for, something Cross said can “lock users in” to a particular persona on a particular network.

The curator model in Trove allows users to share content in as many different topic areas as they want, Ravindran said, and then the service’s algorithms recommend whatever “troves” or curated selections they think a user might want to read, based on their Twitter and/or Facebook profiles and their activity within the app.

News curation is a crowded space

This focus on curators choosing content from hundreds or even thousands of different sources (Trove has 15,000 sources — 100 of whom it has syndication deals with, Ravindran said) also reminds me of Flipboard, which launched a new curated-magazine feature last year that allows users to “flip” articles or blog posts from any provider they happen to be reading into a customized magazine that they can share with others. Ravindran said that unlike Flipboard’s more visual approach, Trove is focused on the content and the character of the curator, which users will presumably identify with and want to “follow.”

As I’ve written a number of times before, I’m a big believer in the power of and the need for curation and recommendation, whether it’s purely algorithm driven or social or some combination of both. I’m a fan of and a user of Prismatic, and recommendation is one of the reasons I was an early user of Zite — I wish apps like Flipboard did more of that than they currently do, and I wish both Facebook and Twitter had better filters and tools to tame the flood of content they unleash.

Given all of that, I am interested to see whether Trove can bring something unique to the market. But it is late to be launching a socially-driven news-curation app, and Trove’s community-based model requires a large number of dedicated users to adopt a completely new and somewhat proprietary platform. The odds against that happening seem relatively high, but I wish them the best of luck.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Shutterstock / nopporn