Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
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Satya Nadella takes a crack at AI-powered news: Microsoft quietly launches Hummingbird

Last month, the “unthinkable” happened.

Microsoft—the company that was declared dead a decade ago—overtook Apple to become the world’s most valuable company. Microsoft chief Satya Nadella—ranked as best CEO in US—led the resurgence, helping the company get its groove back.

On a mission to “rebuild Microsoft brick by brick”, Satya has ushered in a host of changes, the latest among which is an effort to crack the curated news segment, an AI-powered news app called Hummingbird.

At first glance, it’s quite similar to the “For You” feed in the Google News app, and to the “My News” feed in Microsoft’s own News app. Unlike Microsoft’s existing app though, Hummingbird uses AI to curate the news feed, aiming to cut through the deluge of news and bring a semblance of order with the help of artificial intelligence.

“Hummingbird uses the latest AI and search technology to help you locate stories and videos on topics you care about and from sources you trust on the web,” according to the company. “The more you use Hummingbird, the better it gets at searching and locating stories from across the web that you’ll like—and avoiding ones you won’t.”

Microsoft launched this app without much fanfare, so details are scant at this point. Hummingbird opens stories through an in-app browser, so it appears that publishers’ existing revenue streams will not be affected, although user experience through the app will not always be uniform.

Many players are trying to crack the curated news segment. From Apple News to Google News to Facebook and Twitter’s algorithmic feeds, some of the biggest technology companies are trying to find the holy grail of automated news curation. How does the new entrant Hummingbird fare?

Like many AI-based services, it’s difficult to judge how well the app works until after you’ve used it regularly for some time. Although fairly new, and a few annoying bugs need to be worked out (for example, the unnatural formatting in “Reader mode”), user reviews till now are very positive.

Hummingbird is Microsoft’s latest effort at news personalization. Months earlier, Microsoft announced a redesigned News app for iOS and Android, with personalization upgrades including the ability to tailor interests to follow the news feed. Soon after, the Seattle company rolled out Bing Spotlight, an artificially intelligent news aggregator that provides an overview of developing stories in Bing search results.

Recently, Google also launched its redesigned News app for Android and iOS with a focus on AI-powered curation, yet another effort by the tech companies to entice readers to use their curated feeds.

Competition is fierce, and no one has perfected AI-curated news yet. Can Satya Nadella pull off yet another “unthinkable” win?

Hummingbird can downloaded both from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.

Download WNIP’s new Media Moments 2018 report, which dives deeper into this year’s developments in publishing, and looks at what opportunities 2019 could usher in. The report is free and can be downloaded here.