Xerox PARC famously invented the graphical user interface (GUI) for modern computers, then just as famously failed to capitalize on it. Now called "PARC, a Xerox company," it continues to innovate to this day in a variety of domains - including web applications. PARC (which stands for Palo Alto Research Center) tackles large computing problems and its newest consumer web service is no exception.

Information overload is something that afflicts web users on a daily basis. PARC wants to fix it with a product called Kiffets, a topic-based news aggregator which quietly launched in beta recently.

We've written before about the challenges of consuming online news in the Real-Time Web era. One of our recommendations in that post was to use a Topic Tracker product, which is what basically what Kiffets is. These types of products aim to filter, categorize and personalize news. Unfortunately for PARC, there are a lot of similar products on the market and so it'll be hard for them to stand out. Our favorite topic trackers include Google Alerts, LazyFeed, Topikality and PubSub.

How Kiffets Works

The first thing that Kiffets asks you to do when you sign up is to create channels, in categories such as 'Entertainment' and 'Politics.' However the terminology here is confusing, as Wall Street Journal is listed as a "channel" (yet it's just one source) alongside channels with multiple sources like 'Diet and Health.' I certainly think of the latter as a channel, but I don't understand why Wall Street Journal is one.

The default channels in Kiffets are a small, insular selection of Silicon Valley centric news sources. More interesting is the ability to add a custom channel. You start by searching for a topic of interest (I chose "Internet of Things"). Kiffets first checks if a channel that matches the search term already exists. In this case it didn't, so I was invited to start one.

The system then lists types of news sources - such as Google Alerts, blogs, Reddit, Technorati, Twitter feeds - and asks you to select which ones you'd like in your channel.

This is a fairly slick set-up process for channels, although my custom channel took longer than the advertised "few minutes" to populate with content.

Does it Work?

The proof of a topic tracker is, of course, in the pudding. The content in my Kiffets channel for 'Internet of Things' is (at this early stage) underwhelming. Let's hope it improves, but right now I'm getting far more interesting Internet of Things content via my equivalent LazyFeed channel.

To get a quick walk-through of the product, check out this PARC video: