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Personal Homepage Software That Knows What You Like, Protects Your Privacy

Genieo, the brainchild of Israeli tech entrepreneur Sol Tzvi, has finally got the formula right for a smart homepage. Out for PC, it’s coming soon to Mac.

Genieo for Mac

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What is your browser’s homepage? Google? Facebook? The New York Times? Are you confident in your choice? Do you spend a lot of time on that site? Or do you get the feeling that this prime piece of Internet real estate–that page you’re shunted onto every time you log on–is far from optimized?

Among many competitors for the Holy Grail of “stickiest” homepage–that is, the one that gets you to hang around the longest–is Sol Tzvi, an Israeli tech entrepreneur whose free service Genieo builds you a smart personalized homepage that feeds you stories you’re interested from around the web, based on your browsing habits. With her company’s most recent round of funding raising its valuation by 50% (the boost due in part to strategic partners in the pipeline, including e-reader companies), and a forthcoming expansion from PC to Mac (see our exclusive first look at the Mac user interface, top image), Tzvi’s an increasingly serious competitor.

What makes Genieo so sticky–sticker than Facebook, according to a three-month randomized survey of tens of thousands of users? Tzvi recently sat down with me in New York and gave me a guided tour.

Once you download Genieo, it lives on your laptop. Completely unmineable, it protects your privacy from third parties. Genieo goes through your browser history, and takes note of your interests–recognizing the difference between a fleeting interest and an enduring one. In the words of Genieo’s PR rep Merredith Branscombe, “It can sense the difference between an ongoing interest in an athlete like Derek Jeter (you’re a scary stalker fan) and an interest in Derek Jeter between the months of March-October (you’re a Yankees fan).” Genieo automatically picks up feeds as you browse–no need to click any RSS buttons–and exercises its algorithmic editorial intelligence to push highlights to a stream on your new homepage. Choice quotes from your Facebook and Twitter accounts show up in the stream–along with your favorite recent blog post from FastCompany.com.

Of course, there are a number of sites that do things like this. iGoogle is one, My6Sense another. The central distinguishing factor here is privacy: besides being unmineable, you can always tell Genieo to put its blinders on with the simple click of a button, and Genieo also automatically disables itself any time you visit a secure https site, like your Gmail, or any time you look at “adult content” — not that you ever do such things, but, you know, if you did.

Another factor is simple, clean, user-friendly design. Red labels even clue you in to Genieo’s reasoning behind why it sent you an item–something labeled “interesting” fits your interests, obviously; something labeled “popular” maybe doesn’t, but all your friends are talking about it and you ought to know; something labeled “rediscovered” is flagged as content that might be a week old, but is topic-relevant and part of a new feed picked up in your recent browsing. One feature allows users to pull up a personal “magazine” of favorite stories of the day, which can then be forwarded via Facebook or email.

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Tzvi made a convincing enough display that I’ll be giving Genieo a shot when it comes to Mac. Expect an Alpha version by December.

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.

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