Category Archives: Storyflow

Storyflow widget open sourced

As some of you might have heard, Storyflow came in as runners up at the Irish Times Digital Challenge last Summer, an eight-week incubator organized by Johnny Ryan inside the Irish Times building in Dublin. The programme’s primary advertised goal was to help media-oriented startups set foot inside a large news organization, which can admittedly be quite conservative when it comes to adopting new technologies. However, the Irish Times made it no secret that they too wanted to learn from the startups, in particular about the potential of different tech ideas for boosting their online (and perhaps even print) revenue.

Admittedly, Storyflow was launched on the business section of irishtimes.com a few months prior to the start of the Challenge, giving it perhaps a small advantage over some of the other candidates with arguably more solid financials etc. Either way, the eight-week presence inside the building gave us an opportunity to understand how the digital team worked in more detail, find out what the near- and long-term future plans the company had for its online presence and, most importantly, try to push the widget out to the whole site.

In retrospect, the main reason why we could not achieve our main goal seems to be that the entities and topics provided by Storyflow with the help of Zemanta were not local enough for an Irish newspaper. Unfortunately, we did not have the resources to create and maintain our own meta-linguistic system, while the Irish Times were working on integrating a different third-party platform into their CMS at the same time, effectively resulting in the take-down of the Storyflow widget from irishtimes.com with the release of their newly designed Web presence in early 2013.

Having considered our options, we have now decided to open source the code for the Storyflow javascript widget, allowing any news site or blog to display a visualization of news story development next to an article. With this move, publishers won’t be bound to our entities and topics any more and can use a system of their choice, whether something built in-house, a Web-based API like Zemanta or just rely on good old tags and categories.

From those of you who find the Storyflow widget a worthy storytelling improvement to their blog or news site, all we ask in return is maybe a small note to @TheStoryflow that you are using the widget as well as any kind of feedback that you might want to send our way to let us make the experience even better. From others, we would love to hear what your reservations are about Storyflow and again, how we could make it better.

To get the Storyflow widget, visit this github page. For now, you will need to install the script manually on whatever platform you’re using. However, we are working on plugins for WordPress and Drupal, with possibly more to come on demand. We really hope that many authors and readers will be able to have some fun with this small piece of eye candy and hope to hear from you about your experience with it!

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Topify Storyline or Related Stories 2.0

If you still consume news at their source, i.e. by visiting blogs and online newspapers you will be accustomed to seeing a “related stories” block somewhere next to or at the bottom of a story. The list containing usually 3 to 5 links has become an inevitable part of almost any article on the Web, just like the share buttons and the comments. However, how often does one really check the titles of the suggested related articles, let alone go ahead with reading these? (That is really meant to be rhetorical, but if the owner of a news site wants to share some analytics stats, you’re more than welcome!)

I would argue that the issue with the provided “related stories” is not that readers are not interested in reading more – in fact, if a person took the time to read this article, and if the suggested stories are truly topically related, he would more likely than not be interested in a few of these. That being said, a “related stories” list does not offer the reader enough background information about the articles to persuade him to actually take a look at these.

What I’m referring to in the above is that, when we consume news, we do so as a continuous lifelong process. We build up our perception of the world by doing so, and we (subconsciously) keep track of the evolution behind the stories and topics that interest us. Reading a bunch of random articles that may be from last week or from five years ago does not fit into that process as it requires too much effort from the reader to place the bits of additional news into the timeline that is kept inside our heads.

To alleviate the above issue, all one needs to do as an owner of a news site is provide the related articles in a visual representation that would enable the reader to easily detect the immediate context of the different stories, and at the same time identify stories of high relevance and importance, as opposed to occasional mentions of a topic that bear little to no significance on its evolution.

WebScio team invites both article writers and readers to experience the new way to discover the bigger picture behind a single news article by trying out our new Topify Storyline widget. The service is currently in a beta state and is being tested by the Irish Times in their Financial section (see e.g. here). Interested news site owners are welcome to subscribe for the service and will get notified very shortly with installation details.

We realize that many changes might still need to be made along the way, however, we strongly believe that this is the right next step in the evolution online news narrative! Visit Topify to learn more.

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Every Blog should have a right to an API!

A couple of days ago, a well known online information warehouse called Fluidinfo (formerly known as FluiDB) has announced that they have created an API for BoingBoing, a popular mainstream blog. Now any common Web user reading this piece of news wouldn’t make much of it, considering there’s not a lot he can do with a bunch of XML-formatted stuff that can be fetched over something called an API. And no one could blame him.

There are, however, people who should be getting particularly excited about this announcement. People who are involved with any kind of data-driven applications, be it personalized news services, recommender tools, semantic apps. Up until now, developers in these areas were severely limited by the unstructured (read: “bloody messed up”) nature of HTML when trying to access one of the richest sources of personal information online – the blogs. Forget Twitter, Facebook and all the rest, if you want to learn something deep and insightful about human opinion on some topic, you need to analyze what they write in their blogs. And up until now, this has been a serious pain in the you know what due to a lack of any structured representation in the blogosphere.

Now, if the news by Fluidinfo can be any indication of things to come, this might just be about to change. While it is still silly to talk about a revolution on the blogosphere, it can take just a number of popular mainstream blogs like ReadWriteWeb, GigaOM, TechCrunch etc. to adopt the offer of Fluidinfo for many others to follow. Because who would want to be left out of the new and sexy apps built on top of a clean API interface where users could be presented with data in the most innovative of ways? All I know is that I wouldn’t! And hopefully sooner or later most blog authors will realize that they’re being left out of something because their, admittedly public, archives are not usable by the newest apps out there.

And so the revolution begins.

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Topify is back with a new team!

It is my pleasure to announce that after almost one and a half years in the wilderness, induced by me finishing my studies and moving to a new country, and my designer fellow opting to take up his own firm full time, Topify is finally back on track. As I have no expertise, skill, or talent in either design or serious marketing, I was reluctant to push this project on without a proper partner on my side. But alas, I have found one in the form of JoyGroup, a small but rapidly growing and ambitious web agency from Almere, Netherlands.

The structure of the project has also slightly changed. We have decided to use the name Topify for our main topic-based aggregation/analysis service, and make it a platform that will be reusable in many different ways. Of course, the first product that we will be launching based on Topify will be a blog-searching service that was the initial goal of mine, but further developments will include a full API, with a bunch of services around it, including a host of Drupal modules!

Watch this space for more announcements in the very near future.

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Blog search broken? DEAD?! Let’s just call it “hybernating”.

Over the last year, there has been a flurry of stories on the blogosphere about the about the inability of big search players and small startups to create a viable blog search engine. It all gradually started with the ubiquitous niggle at Technorati, the “leading” player in the blog search market, a company that probably spends more time at thinking about the perfect ad placement coordinates than spam reduction and search relevance.. hmm, well, you see what I mean by “ubiquitous niggle”.

But then I just thought it was all meant to encourage Technorati, as we all have this innate need to see Google beaten at any race they’re in, even though we actually just need that to happen to be able to tell ourselves that Google is not the only option and we’re using it at free will (sorry, drifting offtopic..). Anyway, that seemed not to be the case, as the will to see Technorati improve slightly went over into a general sense of frustration, capped off in August 2008 with Mashable’s supposition that Blog Search is Broken.

The main notion in that post was that Technorati has the most potential, but just doesn’t seem to be getting any love from the users, while the newer options like MyBlogLog, BlogCatalog or Wikio are just trying to put collections of blogs and/or blog posts together in a directory-like manner, without offering much of the search dimension.

Since then, at least one startup has sprung to life which seems to be getting a lot of acclaim, namely Twingly. But while the company is doing really good progress, it doesn’t seem to have established itself as a major player yet, and thus we come to March 2009, where, as the legend goes, blog search has finally died. At least according to The Blog Herald’s latest analysis, according to which there is too much spam and irrelevant stuff whenever it comes to blog searching.

Now they are probably completely right on the problem aspect, i.e. there is really a lot of spam-blogs out there, as well as feeds that aren’t even blog feeds or some company’s great idea to index the whole page of a blog post, without even trying to cut out the actual text from it (Go*cough*ogle). As for the solutions, there is much more that needs to be done but also much reason to be optimistic even of the very near future to come up with a decent solution.

First, the problem or spam-blogs, feeds that don’t point to blogs and other basic irrelevancy. Think of just one approach here, the Wikipedia-approach, and you will be rewarded aplenty! Yes, spammers will try to add their spam-blogs, while others will be accidentally saved by the crawlers, but there are users to help us out there. A simple combination of user-voting and admin-monitoring can do wonders here in my opinion, there just needs to be a good base of blogs to start with to attract the crowd and then the snowball will be on its’ way.

A much bigger problem is that blog search engines are still focusing on the old approaches of link-based post ranking, tagging and also the new approach of user-voting. As I pointed out in previous posts, the first is just a tonic for top 100 blogs, the second highly misleading and the third just not applicable for a pure search site (it surely is for a news aggregator or such). What is amiss here are semantic technologies that will mine deeper into the meaning of the blog posts and provide the user with highly relevant stories based on their content and not some keyword-link rank.

Thus, to revive blog search, we have to see that it’s different from the initial Web problem of finding any relevant content in a haystack, it’s about finding the one that makes the most sense. Luckily for all concerned, there are many semantic startups launching and getting good support around the scene and it can’t be long before they spread over to such tasks as blog search. When that day comes (i.e. I stop talking and finally deliver thing thingy called Topify), Jonathan, you will be one of the first to get an invite and have your faith in blog search restored :)

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Topics on a rise? Launch of FeedVis certainly suggests so.

Before I speak any further about a possible “competitor”, I would like to clarify my personal position in this whole mess a little: Although the Topify project aims to provide its’ users with a perfect topic exploration experience and blow all the competition away, *grin*, we also want to see more linguistic tools used on the Web, especially when it comes to dealing with natural text. Accordingly, we welcome and encourage every idea that tries to use NLP tools to make sense of human-generated texts. Again, as I said before, tagging is an amazing idea and currently the most efficient approach to finding relevant information on the Web, but I deeply believe that natural language can bring so much more to the scene.

That clarified, I would like to express my sincere joy at seeing a company try and use some kind of (albeit very simple) structural approach to “track hot topics“. FeedVis doesn’t do much more than count word ocurrency frequencies in blog posts and put these together to possibly detect the most important and/or currently trending topics in a thematically connected set of blogs. This doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a great start already, although probably with a couple of misconceptions.

What we see in the FeedVis “tag cloud” is in my opinion not precisely a set of topics, but rather a specialized base vocabulary of the selected area. If, when and to what degree the one word or the other is actually a topic is hard to say from such a generalized statistic though. The word “learning” might appear once in _every_ post, whereas some others, which are much lower down on the absolute count, can appear several times in a single post. For me, the first case would not be a topic, but a general theme-defined word which doesn’t really help us understand what the current trends in the area are. The second case, however, is a real topic, which gives strong clues about the main motifs in an area at the given time.

All in all, it’s nice to see a service like FeedVis, that goes beyond the common tagging approach and tries to extract some sense out of texts without relying on anything really. Will be exciting to compete with you once Topify is running. You get a head start anyway :)

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Under Re-Construction

Sorry for not writing for a such a long time, but the Topify team has been quite busy with the personal life in the last 1.5 months to make any sort of huge progress. We have successfully launched our alpha version during the so-called Developers Day last month and met a lot of positive and supportive feedback. The main part of the site that most people were missing is some sort of community-like area, which was planned to be done next, but…

..but apparently we haven’t thought everything through when we started developing the site. So due to this, we were, unfortunately, stuck with a site design that didn’t allow for too many Web 2.0 features and a CMS that is a bit behind in this area. So after some consideration, we decided to switch both. The design has been much improved and looks sleeker than ever, which is a real joy. We have also switched our CMS and after a short period of porting the old stuff, we’re back on track and developing the final features quicker than ever. This said, there is still work to be done before we can launch a stable public beta. I’m not going to do the silly mistake of estimating a launch date again, but, to be honest, I’m kind of tired of developing in stealth mode and just want to get the thing out into the wild as soon as it goes. Unleash the beast on you! Yes, you! and YOU! Don’t run away!

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