TechMeme Gives Up On Fully Automated News

3+ year old TechMeme, an automated news site that shows breaking news clustered by topic, has always generated “headlines” by analyzing how news sites link to each other. If a lot of sites start linking to something unique, TechMeme guesses it’s news.

That isn’t working, says founder Gabe Rivera today in a blog post: “Only an algorithm would feature news about Anna Nicole Smith’s hospitalization after she’s already been declared dead, as our automated celeb news site WeSmirch did last year.”

He’s hired someone to start vetting stories that the algorithm says are headlines, to either push them up or get them off the site entirely.

I believe this is a slippery slope for TechMeme. Certainly a human editor can make the results better. But it also completely destroys the objective nature of TechMeme and turns it into something different. It’s now subjective, and in many ways just another news site.

Today the TechMeme Leaderboard (and we track individual authors on CrunchBase) is an objective list of what sites are breaking the most news and getting other trusted news sources (“trusted” being defined by TechMeme) to link to them. With these changes it isn’t clear what authority that Leaderboard commands.

Overall I think we can expect better and faster news on TechMeme, which is an invaluable resource for journalists, bloggers and news junkies. But the fundamental nature of it has changed.