Tag Archives: blogs

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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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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Welcome to Topify!

Hello and welcome to the official blog of Topify!

What is Topify you ask? No? Well, we’ll tell you anyway. Topify is a project aiming to extract and provide you with the intrinsic subject for all those news articles and blog posts that appear en masse everyday on the Web. This problem occurred to me while working on my Master thesis on political communication online, when I noticed that while there is a lot of content out there that you know deals with the topics you want to examine or inform yourself on or just read about, it is not an easy task to filter it out properly.

Sure, there are blog directories and tagging communities, which, don’t take me wrong, are a great thing to have, but sometimes when you’re just looking for some facts and thoughts on.. say rubber stamps (the political ones) you end up with blog entries just calling someone a rubber stamp without much of an explanation or something similar to that. What is much harder to come by is a piece of writing like this, really dedicated to those politicians who, according to the new Safire’s Political Dictionary “take orders from a political leader or [are] dominated by orders from higher up.

So while the world of online news and blog posts is prospering like never before, the options on how to browse all this data remain rather scant. At the moment, if you don’t tag your content right, you run the risk of being missed by a significant part of your potential target audience because sometimes people just want to read about one exact topic and not all the posts tagged with a generalized concept. This is where we at Topify hope to be able to build a system that can extract those natural topics from news items and blog posts for everyone to discover and talk about.

If I could get you interested, come around again to this blog for further thoughts and discussions on this and related topics. The project itself is still in development, but with your suggestions it could become great addition to your favorite social web sites as soon as this Summer. Stay tuned! :)

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