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Google personalizes news site

The search giant changes its news aggregation site to let people organize it by section, nation or keyword.

Google began testing new customization features on its news aggregation site Wednesday in a salvo against competition from Microsoft.

Google News, still in its test or "beta" phase after launching in 2002, says it will let people specify what categories of news to display on the page, giving an array of choices including results chosen by keyword.

"We've made a number of improvements to Google News that allow you to customize your News front page by creating sections that focus on topics you care about, for instance, your favorite sports team, technology, or celebrity," reads a Google News page posted Wednesday. "You can also design your custom front page by mixing and matching existing standard sections from the 22 regional editions of Google News from around the globe."

On its launch three years ago, Google News upped the ante for news aggregators like Yahoo News by automatically collating a worldwide array of news sources. In July, Microsoft responded with a news aggregator of its own that highlights customization options.

A test version seen by CNET wasn't yet functional. Attempts to customize a Google News page failed, with all commands yielding a "Google Error" page that read "Not Found: The requested URL...was not found on this server."

A Google representative said the new system was still in testing but would launch with full functionality later Wednesday night before an official announcement Thursday.

In Wednesday's tests, Google News started displaying a customization box listing its normal news categories. Above the box, the site read, "Drag to rearrange page. Click to edit."

Google News readers will be able to create up to 20 sections for their custom page. The customization relies on cookies, or files a Web site places on the visitor's computer to store identifying details and preferences for subsequent visits. Readers can also distribute their customized setting via e-mail.