I Want a “Personalized Magazine of the Past”

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For this week’s Technologizer column, I took a look at personalized-magazine apps–Flipboard, Taptu, and Zite (all for the iPad) and Genieo (for Windows PCs and Macs). Each one is a bit different in its technology and emphasis, but the core notion is similar: They grab stories from all over the Web that are likely to interest you, and then format them in a magazine-like design.

I love the category. In fact, I love it so much that I want someone to build something based on this notion that turns it on its head. Rather than compiling a magazine out of the latest news stories, what if a personalized-magazine app assembled one out of really old news stories?

Google Books’ magazine section has grown into a remarkable repository of decades’ worth of dead-tree magazines, from the iconic (LIFE, Popular Science) to valuable niche publications (American Woodworker, Infoworld) to the just plain weird (Weekly World News).  The only problem–and I’ve carped about this before–is that it’s just too hard to find all the riches they contain. There’s a full-text search feature, but it’s surprisingly limited (as far as I can tell, you can’t tell it to provide the results in chronological order). And there’s no good way to engage in the sort of serendipitous discovery you might indulge in if all those magazines were on shelves rather than on Google servers.

(Other magazine libraries, incidentally, make homes elsewhere–including eighty-eight years’ worth of  TIME, which can read here, albeit without pretty pictures or vintage ads.)

So how about a Flipboard-like app that’s smart enough to determine your interests–be they military history or fashion or gadgets–and then retrive classic magazine articles–be they from 1940 or 1970 or 2000–you’ll probably enjoy? The content is already digitized and ready to go, in vast quantities; now all we need is a way to get at it.