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Publishing News: Goodreads chases the recommendation Holy Grail

A new kind of book recommendation appears at Goodreads and HTML5 had a very big week in the media world.

Here’s what caught my eye in publishing news this week.

Has Goodreads nabbed the book recommendation Holy Grail?

GoodreadsGoodreads purchased Discovereads about six months ago. This week, Goodreads finally put its acquired machine learning algorithms to use and launched a new book recommendation engine. As ReadWriteWeb explained:

The site’s new reading recommendations are generated using a set of propriety algorithms which look at over 20 billion different data points. Perhaps most importantly, it takes into account the stated preferences of of its nearly six million users, for whom rating books is already a key component of using the site.

This giant dataset is what gives the engine its edge. Goodreads CEO and founder Otis Chandler gave an example in the press release, pointing out that Goodreads has “more than 174,000 ratings of the best-selling ‘The Help’ while Amazon only has around 4,400.” But the algorithm doesn’t stop at popularity — it digs deeper into readers’ psyches, as pointed out on Mashable:

The algorithm … is largely based on what’s on a reader’s bookshelf and what other readers with similar bookshelves have enjoyed reading. It also takes into account why you liked a book. When a reader categorizes “The Help” as “historical fiction,” the algorithm will react differently than when he or she classifies it as “racism.”

Goodreads’ algorithm and dataset allows it to not only provide recommendations of similar books (ala BookLamp, Amazon, et al), but also suggestions that teeter closer to the Holy Grail of recommendation: serendipity and discovery.

Hearst goes multi-platform with HTML5 web design

Good HousekeepingHearst took the digital publishing bull by the horns and launched a redesign of its GoodHousekeeping.com website — using HTML5. It also indicated it would pursue the same path for most of its other sites.

One of the major benefits of designing with HTML5, of course, is the cross-platform utility it allows (see comparison screenshots over at ReadWriteWeb). Another advantage is the interactivity, which Hearst is embracing fully. In an interview at Folio, Eric Gullin, Hearst’s group director, called out the the rotating promotional player on the home page at Goodhousekeeping.com:

This slide show or rotator is touch enabled, depending on the device you’re using, and that’s one of the things that’s wonderful with HTML5. We can use HTML5 to have it work the way we would like it to work depending on the device the reader has.

But that wasn’t all of the exciting HTML5 news this week …

BostonGlobe.com delivers news in HTML5

Boston GlobeYes, another newspaper launched a website that will be behind a paywall (I’ll get to that part in a minute), but the intriguing thing about the launch of BostonGlobe.com was pointed out on page two of a paidContent.org post:

…the site is based on HTML5 “responsive design,” an app-like offering that reflexively re-sizes depending on the device and screen. Everything from the front page to the photo galleries to the HTML5 crossword puzzle … is designed to work via browser. That includes a “MySaved” feature that allows users to save stories via the browser on one PC or device and not only open them in another, but quickly save them for offline reading on a new device. It even works in the experimental browser on a Kindle …

I’m impressed, and I’m not the only one excited about the HTML5 design. Nieman Lab was quick to point out this design might just allow the newspaper to bypass the 30% cut Apple takes from subscriptions. I’m certain other news organizations are bandying that tidbit about their conference tables.

As for the paywall part of the site … the plan is to continue running Boston.com, the original free site, but move about three-fourths of the newsy content to the new BostonGlobe.com and ask people to pay $3.99 per month (print subscribers get free access). The fact that they’re going to offer breaking news, 20 new blogs, and some news content on the free site, as mentioned in the paidContent post, might work against them. There’s also a fun three-step process posted at The Evolving Newsroom to estimate how well it will all turn out (hint: that HTML5 crossword puzzle and the photo galleries mentioned above might factor in heavily).

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