HuffPost Highlights taps reader-powered curation of best passages

When your website puts out thousands of pieces of content a day, how do you consistently and efficiently surface the best stuff?

The simplest way is to just follow the cowpaths — the routes where reader behavior naturally flows. For example, nearly every news website now lists its most-read stories. That’s a good start, but a bit blunt. It doesn’t tell why the story is popular, or what part of it is driving the interest.

Enter a new solution: HuffPost Highlights.

The Huffington Post now tracks which snippets of article text users are selecting, and collects the most popular ones. It tracks when users explicitly click the new highlight button next to their selection, or if they simply copy a selection of text to paste somewhere else.

Readers can highlight any text in articles they read.

An algorithm analyzes all the saved snippets, groups together related ones and scores them based on how much attention they’ve received relative per pageview.

The most-popular ones are featured one the new Highlights page. The result is sort of like an automated Tumblr of the best pull-quotes from the best stories. I tried it out, and it works well.

Popular passages also are highlighted when you read a story on a HuffPost blog, and there is a sidebar widget that cycles through the top five quotes in that content vertical.

“We wanted to find and expose the buried ledes, the interesting quotes, paragraphs, or snippets of data in articles, and create a new way for users to browse the content on a news site, and discover articles that may have not been featured, but that they may find interesting,” Conor White-Sullivan, director of HuffPost Labs, told me.

Also file this development under the broader trend of news articles becoming layers of information, like ProPublica’s “explore sources” annotation layer or Grantland’s sidebar footnotes.

Highlights is the first major product produced by HuffPost Labs — a skunkworks division run by White-Sullivan (whose startup Localocracy won the Poynter Promise Prize and was acquired by HuffPost last year) with tech lead Brandon Diamond and designer Andrew Sass.

The team reports directly to CTO John Pavley, the former Spotify executive HuffPost hired in April. White-Sullivan says Pavley “is very passionate about maintaining an entrepreneurial culture within Huffington Post technologies.” keep an eye on this group to see what comes next.

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