Tag Archives: Startup

The (Filtered) Web is Your Feed

A few months ago I was complaining here about my rss overload. A commenter suggested that I take a look at my6sense, a browser extension (now also iPhone app) that acts as a smart RSS reader, emphasizing the entries you should be reading. I wanted to give my6sense a go then, but the technical experience was lousy, and moreover – I was expected to migrate my rss reading to it. Too much of a hassle, I gave it up.

In the past few weeks I’ve been test-driving a new player – Genieo, which takes the basic my6sense idea a few steps further. Genieo installs an actual application, not just extension, that plugs into your browser. It tracks your rss feeds automatically, simply by looking for rss feeds in the pages you’re browsing, and learns your feeds without any setup work.

Genieo then goes further to discover feeds on pages you visit even if you’re not subscribed to them, turning your entire browsing history into one big rss feed.  It finally filters this massive pool of content using a semantic profile it builds for your interests, based on analyzing the text you’ve read so far.

For IR people this may sound a lot like Watson, Jay Budzik’s academic project turned contextual search turned an advertising technology acquisition. Watson approached this problem as a search problem: how would I formulate search queries that would run in the background, fetching me the most relevant documents that match the user’s current context? problem is, users are not constantly searching, and would get quickly annoyed by showing general search results when not asked for.

The good thing about an rss feed is that it explicitly says “this is a list of content items to be consumed from this source“, and its temporal nature provides a natural preference ranking (prefer recent items), so a heuristic of “users would be interested in recent and relevant items from feeds in pages they visited” works around the general search difficulty pretty well. Genieo circumvents the expected privacy outcry by running the entire logic on the client side, nothing of the analyzed data leaves your PC (privacy warriors would probably run sniffers to validate that).

In my personal experience, the quality of most results is excellent, and they are almost always posts that would interest me. Genieo quickly picked up my feed subscriptions from clicks I made in my reader to the full article in a browser window (from which it extracted the rss feed), and after a while I could see it gradually picking up on my favorite memes (search, social and others). I did not give up my rss reader for Genieo yet, and I also still have many little annoyances with it, but overall for an initial version, it works surprisingly well.

However, the target audience that is even more suited for Genieo is the not rss-savvy users like me, but the masses out there who don’t know and don’t care about reading feeds. They just want interesting news, and they don’t mind missing on the full list (a-la Dave Winer’s “River of News” concept). Such users will find tools like Genieo as useful as a personal news valet can be.

Mechanical Hype, revisited

aardvarkAs I wrote previously, I really like the idea behind Aardvark (previously known as Mechanical Zoo) and it’s a great social Q&A tool, but it simply is notsocial search” (and unlike TechCrunch,  RWW realize that). The Aardvark team still pushes with that terminology, I guess for a good reason given the financial climate, and disperses more of it in a white paper. Once they actually start searching in their aggregated Q&A repository to provide you with an available answer without bothering your network – that would become more of a search solution, rather than Q&A.

Having played with the product a bit, I also see an inherent flaw in the social premise here. Aardvark provides me with answers from friends, or friends-of-friends. Now, it’s more likely I’ll get answers from friends-of-friends, as there are simply a lot more of them. However, these would be people who don’t know me, and will not provide a personal answer that is tailored to my own individual needs.

Still, it’s a great way to make new friends. Not kidding – Aardvark strongly drives conversations, as Danny Sullivan also pointed out, and since this friend-of-friend was the one who responded to my question, I’d feel more comfortable discussing further. Presumably Aardvark will also track this, and practically add this person to my direct social graph.


Update: Max Ventilla of Aardvark commented in my previous post that indexing your graph and finding the right person to answer your query has, in fact, the ingredients of social search. He has a point there, but still that search ends in finding a person, not information, so it’s more of a people search. Still, I agree that in executing this task, the varkers face similar difficulties to those we faced in Delver, albeir on much smaller scale.

MashupAds: the Banner Strikes Back

dapper-logo1A couple of years ago, when I was working on a web 2.0 platform we launched in a previous workplace, we were desperately looking for a simple advertising solution that would boostrap our initial content site revenues. Not wanting to start selling ad space ourselves, we needed some kind of a turnkey solution, but all we could use was the inefficient but simple-to-use AdSense for Content. We had a look at Shopping.com’s API, for which we saw a great implementation in answers.com, but once we dived into the documentation it was clear that the overhead of implementing is huge. So we just gave up and used AdSense.

Text ads are not always the right tool. Banners attract your readers’ attention a lot better, and even give some grace and color to your pages. But we all came to think of banners as irrelevant, annoying “punch the monkey” stuff, and relevant banner designs take costly creative efforts, thus we all let AdSense dominate with a lousy solution for content sites.

So when a friend who works at Dapper told me about MashupAds, which just launched, it instantly sounded like a great idea. Let advertisers stream relevant graphic ads directly from their published content, no need to work on separate creatives (which is a major pain over text ads), and give content startups another turnkey monetization alternative, helping them optimize their targeting by easily specifying the exact hints to use on the page. Dapper’s demos also show the visual advantage of banner ads over text ads in certain cases, but that is, of course, assuming the visual does look good and fits the target site. In fact, I can already guess requests start flowing to Dapper from early adopters – “…can I change the layout of that ad? that pinky background really doesn’t look good on my purple background!”… good luck with that, Avner! 🙂

Mechanical Hype

I like the idea behind Aardvark. I’m also happy for Mechanical Zoo for securing their future just in time. But to call an IM bot that sends a question to your network social search – well, that’s almost as hype-ish as labeling an advanced bookmarking service as Semantic Web. Search is about smartly tapping a mass of information, where the problem is in finding the right needle in an existing haystack. Aardvark is simply a Q&A site smartly superimposed on the social network.

And nevertheless a clever concept, wishing them success.