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MySpace visitors to vote on what’s news

Times Staff Writer

Leave it to the folks behind “American Idol” to ask tens of millions of MySpace visitors to vote for their favorite news story.

News Corp., which owns the world’s top social-networking website as well as the Fox television network, is introducing MySpace pages today that will present a massive number of articles and blog entries ranked by their popularity among its users.

MySpace News will automatically collect stories from thousands of sources and group them in hundreds of categories, then place them in order based on the votes.

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The project is the latest effort to apply the collective thinking of the masses to journalism, bringing to bear the power of one of the most-visited websites.

“The culture of participation is fundamentally changing the way people are interacting with content,” said Greg Sterling, the principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, a consulting firm in Oakland.

That change was underscored this week, when many youths turned to social sites such as Facebook to learn about the shootings at Virginia Tech.

“The new generation is interested in news, just not as much in traditional sources,” said new-media consultant Mike Vorhaus of Frank N. Magid Associates. “It’s further evidence that the traditional market is being hammered away.”

Executives at Beverly Hills-based Fox Interactive Media, the News Corp. division that owns MySpace, said that in the absence of a major story they expected entertainment items and gossip to rise to the top spots. But voters will also elevate stories within niche categories as diverse as taxes and tea.

News Corp. has been looking for ways to earn money on MySpace since it paid $580 million for the website’s parent company in 2005. Advertisers have been reluctant to spend much for ads on the personal and sometimes provocative profiles that make up most of MySpace. The news pages will give advertisers a controlled environment.

The stories will consist of a headline, one paragraph and a link to the full piece on the news site or blog where it originated. Sources will be selected on criteria including the number of links to them and how often the material is updated.

“It’s a great marriage between technology and letting the users pick and rate the stories,” MySpace President Tom Anderson said.

MySpace News is based on more than three years of work begun by two Brown University students who wanted to find the most compelling voices amid the cacophony of the Web.

Although Yahoo News, Digg and other sites show visitors the most widely read or most-praised stories in a handful of broad categories such as technology news or entertainment, “It’s extremely hard to find the person saying the most interesting thing on something narrow, like USC football,” said MySpace News co-founder Brian Norgard.

He and partner Dan Gould had moved to San Francisco and were seeking individual investors last year when Fox Interactive Media offered to buy the fledgling company.

“We said we can either go it alone and take the risk, or join something like [Fox] and MySpace and leverage the amazing traffic,” Norgard said. “It’s sort of surreal to integrate into one of the biggest websites in the world.” MySpace serves its users 1.5 billion pages a day.

The project is the first that Fox has introduced to MySpace via an acquisition.

Anderson said MySpace News might start small. There will be a link to it from the page where MySpace users log in. But other options on that page, such as horoscopes and books, have not proven as popular as the personal profiles on the site.

Anderson said “a natural next step” would be to let users change their log-in pages so that they are greeted daily by the top MySpace stories or by the top stories from a given category. A place to comment on articles will also be added.

Analyst Sterling said he didn’t expect MySpace News or its rivals to vanquish newspapers and their websites, which are also drawing more on user feedback.

“Without the professional content, there wouldn’t be anything to rate,” Sterling said. “But the community’s involvement as a filtering layer makes it more interesting.”

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joseph.menn@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Cyber rankings

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Companies with largest Internet audiences

(In millions of unique visitors for the week ending April 9)

Microsoft: 63.5

Google: 62

Yahoo: 58.3

Time Warner: 52.6

News Corp.*: 31.9

*Includes MySpace

Source: Nielsen/NetRatings


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