Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

I Smirch, u smirch, we all smirch

So Gabe finally took memeorandum into another category today, launching WeSmirch. Just take tech.memeorandum and replace Scoble, Winer, RSS feeds and blogs with Jennifer Aniston, Paris Hilton, anorexia and divorces.

Oh, and give it a smick looking make-over. Even with the recent design changes, memeorandum still looks dated to me. It’s quite amazing what a cooler looking masthead and some better looking colours can do for the place. Oh and all the memeorandum kin now have pics. I suspect that’s an introduction driven by WeSmirch. The images don’t do a whole heap for tm.
Interesting decision not to go with celebs.memeorandum, gossip.memeorandum or something similiar. In one respect, it’s definitely the right thing to do. You’re WeSmirch audience wouldn’t care, doesn’t want to care what a meme is. Mind you, not sure if they want to know we smirching is either…

smirch (smûrch) pronunciation
tr.v., smirched, smirch·ing, smirch·es.

  1. To soil, stain, or dirty with or as if with a smearing agent: “their tough, hostile faces, smirched by the grime and rust” (Henry Roth).
  2. To dishonor; defame.

In keeping true to his audience though, Gabe has given up consistency across his brands. That’s ok, if Gabe sees a limited number of brands he’s going to be able to produce. Not so good, if you’re trying to do the longtail thing (although Gabe’s said in the past that’s not his game).

For a tech guy, Gabe has remarkable insight into publishing. For me, that’s why memeorandum wins out in the “memetracker” stakes. In the end, it’s not going to be the best algorithm or the best tech that wins. It’s who understands the reader. It’s who is the best publisher, not who makes the best software.

P.S. If Gabe lends me his brand, I can add a ‘b’ and we’ve got WebSmirch!  Now that I like…

Filed under: memeorandum

Do you look like your aggregator?

You know how they say pets tend to look like their owners. Well, after playing around with content aggregators over the last few days, it’s become strikingly obvious to me that the content aggregators share the same types of personalities as their users.

The explosion of traffic this site has seen over the last three of four days that has seen us maintain our lofty WordPress ranking has been entirely down to referrals from aggregators. So I’ve had the opportunity to watch the kinds of traffic that these aggregators send through as well as watching the way certain stories climb or fall.

It’s been fascinating.

Let’s start with memeorandum. How does memeorandum work. It’s based on links from authorative sources. So if you’re not in the club, you don’t get a guernsey no matter how intelligent or smart your post is. There’s no ability to submit an article. You need to depend on being noticed and linked to by someone in the club. Now, let’s look at the type of bloggers who dominate memorandum. It’s the tech elite. Your Scoble’s, Arrington’s, Malik’s, etc. So you’ve got elite bloggers, whose sense of eliteness is being reaffirmed by an elitest aggregator.

It’s not surprising then that memeorandum sends through the least traffic of the three aggregators I’ve mentioned. But you get really good traffic. Bloggers who are going to take your post and critique, expand, pontificate. The only unfortunate aspect to memeorandum is that unless you’re one of the posts get broken out as a lead story the traffic it sends through is almost non-existent. So the conversation aspect of memeorandum isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Some one would say exactly the same about his corner of the blogosphere.

Now let’s look at Digg. Digg is all about power to the people. To get a story up the ladder at Digg, the comrades need to vote it up. There’s no elite, here. Every one has the ability to Digg. No Digg is worth more than any other Digg. And who is your average Digger. Your open-source loving, technology-is-democratizing the world, techie geek. Any body, any story can make it to the top of Digg if the people say so.

But Digg’s ranking system encourages herd mentality. The more popular it becomes, the higher up the list it gets, the more Diggs it gets, the higher up the list it goes and so on. Digg traffic is all or nothing. If you dont’ get a start, Digg sends through just a trickle of traffic. Make it onto the front page, though, and Digg’s easily the more influential aggregator around as you can see by watching the WordPress rankings of those WordPress.com blogs that make it to the front.

Next up, we’ve got Reddit. Reddit’s slightly more sophisticated than Digg, in terms of the way it ranks traffic. Not only can you promote something up the batting order you can also critique it. So where a sensationalist post has the potential to rocket up the Digg charts because of the number of Digg’s, on Reddit, it’s just as likely to struggle because people are going to vote it down. Similiarly, the type of stories that do well on Reddit, are a little more high-brow than what you get at Digg. More world news and politics, tech blog posts that make it need to be very well argued.

Reddit will get you a pretty reasonable traffic flow, even if you don’t get onto the front page. There appears to be far more people lurking around the back pages looking for good stuff and Reddit readers are more inclined to check you out than Digg readers.

So while all primarily have a tech-oriented audience, there are three very distinct groups served by each. In fact, you can say these groups are analagous to our society. memeorandum is for the crusty, upper class. Digg is for the greater populus and Reddit is for the middle class.

What all this tells me is that there probably won’t be one aggregator that rules this space. Because even though you can create different communities around a particular voting style, the more important nature of an aggregator is that the ranking methodology has to fit with the personality of the community.

So in fact, I wonder if Digg, memeorandum, Reddit will scale beyong the communities they own now. Gabe Rivera has already said memeorandum has limitations because his community interacts very differently to how the rest of the blogosphere works. How well with the Digg, Reddit systems work outside of the tech arena. Techies like to be involved with technology, so they like an interactive ranking system. Will a teenage girl, a mother-of-three, a grandfather engage with a site the same way?

Make Squash Squishy: Digg this story

Filed under: Content Aggregation, Digg.com, memeorandum, reddit

memeorandum tweaks?

Maybe I’m off the mark but it looks like Gabe has given memeorandum a bit of a tweak.

The page I’m looking at now, for example, has about 40 discussion links on the big FON story and nine of those stories are broken out so you can actually read the first par. To me it looks like Gabe has both increased the number of sources but is also exposing more of the “conversation”.

And I could be wrong with this one too, but I get a sense that memeorandum is now doing more analysis of a post’s content. This was backed up by a couple of remarks Gabe made in recent interviews, as well.

Filed under: memeorandum

Google News fatally flawed

By now if you’re a web afficianado you’d know that Google News is out of beta . Big deal. The real meat in this story is Google’s launch of a personalised news service , which it seems the company has been waiting to complete before it ripped up the beta sticker.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we’re building a content aggregator as our very first “labs” project so I’ve spent a lot of time analysing what I feel are the strengths and weaknesses of the various aggregators out there. So where do I see Google News and what impact will its new recommendation make?

I use Google News every day. MediaConnects produce a daily column each day in which we analyse the day’s Australian tech media coverage, giving credit to journos for breaking news stories. A Google News search is invaluable for us in terms of trying to determine if a story was exclusive, how it might have been sourced and who broke the story first. For me, that’s always been the power of the service – searching. It’s a great “journal of record” but I tried using Google News as a gatekeeper for barely a day before giving up on it.

The fundamental flaw with Google News is that its based primarily on clustering, not ranking. It’s ability to rate a story is limited to analysing how many times a particular story is reported. So it has enough intelligence to pick out the most reported story. Woop-de-doop. That’s equates to almost zero value add because by the time a story makes it to prominence on Google News, it’s already been reported by every man and its dog and subsequently Google News can only ever be a follower. Can you imagine a newspaper editor saying “I’ve got this really great concept. We’re going to concentrate on reporting all the news, that everybody else has already reported!”

At best, the Google News news pages serves a purpose as a backup source, enabling a reader to ensure they haven’t missed any big news stories. Again, there’s that journal of record aspect.

The other related flaw with Google News is it has no ability to rate stories within a cluster. So where memeorandum gains the intelligence of ranking stories in a thread, by looking at the number of links a post receives, Google News has no such intelligence. I presume it makes a decision based on how long ago a story was posted and by the credibility of its various news sources it tracks. Hardly, a sophisticated way of picking out the best coverage of a particular story.

Now Google is also recommending news stories based on your search history. So how does this change the game for Google? It improves the service in one manner. Google News has large overarching topics which are really too broad to be of any use as an aggregator. So at least, you’ll be able to keep tabs on narrow subject areas. However, Google’s got a better killer app here. It’s Google News Alert. I subscribe to all stories related to the football team I follow and have those emailed to me. The value-add here is that I’m alerted to new stories even if I’m not checking the web or my newsfeeds.

The problem for Google News is the flaws I’ve already outlined, are only exacerbated when it comes to the effectiveness of its recommendation engine. According to the Google News help page, (hat tip to Search Engine Watch ) this is how the recommendation service works.

By signing in to personalized news and keeping Personalized Search enabled, you allow Google to track and save your news selections. Then, Google News can automatically recommend relevant stories just for you by using smart algorithms that analyze your selections. The algorithms compare your tastes to the aggregate tastes of other groups of similar Google News users. Simply put, we recommend news stories to you that have been read by many other users who’ve also read similar stories as you in the past.

So you get served up other popular stories. But chances are, a story is only popular because Google’s flawed rating system has put it there in the first place. It’s very much a case of the blind leading the blind.

I’d be very surprised if the people behind today’s leading aggregators are shaking in their boots over these latest developments. Google News will always have its place and the fact that its a Google product means it will always be an influential aggregator. However, as a gatekeeper that points people to new, interesting content, I’m afraid it needs a fundamental redevelopment. That’s highly unlikely based on the fact the service is now out of beta.

So content aggregators rejoice. Squash’s bet is that this is one corner of the Internet that Google won’t be dominating anytime soon.

Filed under: Content Aggregation, Google, memeorandum

The Closed blogosphere and the Memeorandum Myth

Squash likes a good conspiracy theory as much as anyone, so we enjoyed stumbling across this post from Kent Newsome who said:

“Unfortunately, the blogosphere is a closed system. There are too many people who believe they are going to get rich by writing a blog. Once you add the element of money into the equation, the element of competition soon follows. So you get the haves linking to one another (and largely only to one another) and ignoring (or at best tolerating) the have nots, in an effort to boost their status and, perhaps more importantly, protect their shares of the readership pie. Anyone who argues this isn’t true hasn’t spent much time surfing around the blogosphere.”

I actually posted a feature to our MediaConnect site today about my experienced writing this blog and I did make the comment that it is awfully difficult to get noticed in the blogosphere without a leg up. Without my Scoble link I’d probably be sitting here with my dozen readers and would have almost certainly have given up. So I think Newsome’s point have merits – the blogosphere is a relatively closed clique. However, even a jaded, former-tech hack like Squash finds it hard to think that your so-called A-List bloggers deliberately inter-post, and seldom link outside of their cosy, little sphere because their afraid of competition.

I think its more to do with the fact that keeping up with the “conversation” on a wider blogosphere basis is damn difficult and to some extent I have to take aggregators to task for failing to make this any easier.

Your typical aggregator, like Blogniscient, is pretty much only any good for finding your “hot” blog posts. Memeorandum is pretty distinct on this level, because it’s meant to be all about the conversation.

However, if you’ve been linked to on memeorandum, you’ve probably been massively underwhelmed as to how much traffic the site actually sends through to you. I’ve yet to have a post make it as a main headline, but I’ve had the first or second link on one of the top stories a couple of times and seen no noticeable increase in traffic at all.

Which indicates to me that for the most part memeorandum users click on the main post, but seldom extend their reading to the various links that expand on the original meme. Which is not all that surprising. How long would it take you to read every link on memeorandum?

Now, I love memeorandum. It does a wonderful job of aggregating and sorting and I probably wouldn’t have the time to write this without it. But it doesn’t do a great job of making it easy for me to immerse myself in the conversations that are going on, rather it tends to inform me that a conversation exists.

Gabe if you read this, I think you need a link for each meme where it opens up a page and I can see all the first paragraphs (at least) of all the blog posts related to that topic.

In the meantime, all bloggers should make the effort to go and read a new blog your not familiar with and throw the occasional link the way of someone who’s not one of the usual suspects. After all, the bigger the blogosphere, the greater the benefit to every blogger.

Filed under: Blogs, memeorandum

memeorandum + man = flip me

memeorandum, held up by many as the posterchild for automated content aggregation will be extended to enable human input as the service extends into markets outside tech and politics.

In response to a Squash posting arguing the merits of a hybrid human/machine aggregation system, memeorandum creator Gabe Rivera said: “I’m planning extensions to my system to enable a hybrid man+memeorandum. Not so much for tech but for other areas.

While Gabe holds to the fact that blog conversations materialise so fast that they require an automated aggregation and filtering process, he is planning hybrid approaches as memeorandum expands.

Gabe has previously flagged in various blog postings that he has plans to extend memeorandum into other categories, perhaps as soon as this year.

The revelation begs questions as to the business model that might underpin memeorandum. If memeorandum is to employ editors as it breaks into other categories like entertainment, sport and so forth, does this mean that Gabe has landed funding? In November, TechnologyReview.com said that “We also understand that … memeorandum may close a round of financing shortly”.

Another option for memeorandum is to partner. Again, Gabe noted on the tinfinger blog that “franchising has always been on the table”.

A network of memeorandum site’s overseen by expert human editors would be a compelling initiative.

From a business perspective, enabling human input into the memeorandum system is a smart move. Among all the Active Web start-ups, I’d like to have two bob invested in memeorandum with an eye to flipping. And it probably won’t be a GEMAYA, but one of the larger publishing houses that hands over the cash.

I can tell you, these blokes have flock-all idea about where the blogosphere is going and how they’re going to respond and they’re going to have to look outside for the answers. They also have very limited tech capabilities and if it took a programmer like Gabe two years to knock off memeorandum, how long do you reckon it’s going to take a big, unwieldy publisher.

Gabe’s very modest about what he’s achieved with memeorandum. He points out that Drudge and other more traditional content aggregation sites generate far more traffic than he does and that he’s still someway off having really created something that can be described as a success. But memeorandum is the site that, more than any other, has captured the attention of the elite, high-powered blogging community. In publishing terms, those influential (notwithstanding by previous post tonight) individuals represent power eyeballs that in turn represent advertising revenue.

Filed under: Content Aggregation, memeorandum

Man vs Machine: The Edit Wars

In this corner, weighing in with more than a dozen years editing experience on websites, newspapers and magazines, I give you – the Human Editor.
 
And in the other corner, weighing in with quad-Intel Titanium processors and capable of churning through a gazillion mathematical functions a second, is the beige box.Let’s get ready to rumble…
 
A couple of days ago, I penned this piece about a search engine that might leverage off the knowledge and understanding of subject experts in the blogosphere. The part of the post that generated most interest in the subsequent comments was my assertion that for the most part a human editor could pretty much match the output of a Google News or Memeorandum. In fact, I reckoned given the set-up that I could do it.
 
I got this comment from Paul Montgomery post responding to my claim that I reckon I could out-memeorandum, memeorandum”.
 
“I wouldn’t be so quick to make claims of your out-Memeoranduming powers. No one ‘gives’ you those tools, you have to build them yourself, as Gabe has done. Show some respect!”
 
First of all, a big Pffft to the throw-away line at the end. I respect my mother and that’s about it. Secondly, heard of a little site called Google, Monty. It’s contains a bunch of tools that are indeed given away, which makes it mighty easy to track news stories, blogs, and other such information.
 
Memeorandum’s Gabe also chipped in saying: “Nah, human editors can’t keep up. They are useful, and maybe memeorandum would be somewhat better with them somehow, but the most informed kind of reading will increasingly need to rely in part on algorithms.”
 
Gabe doesn’t discount that a human editor could add value but he still believes conversations generally move too fast for a human to keep up with.
 
I’m just looking at memeorandum now and there are less than 100 links on the page (admittedly, it’s Sunday…). Those links pretty much have rolled on and off the page over a 48 hour period. I gotta tell you, it ain’t that many. Without memeorandum or like services, I’d have to pound away on a search engine all day but I do think I’d be able to keep pretty good pace. But the reality is I’ve got a secret weapon. There’s nothing stopping me using memorandum and other like services, which will save me oodles of time on the collection front and enable me to focus most of my effort on re-packing the content, based on human judgement, to make it as interesting and appealing to my reader as possible (and before you say that’s hardly fair, automated aggregation systems are heavily reliant on the judgement of human editors in deciding which stories are important and deserve precedence, so in the context of my argument, which is that a hybrid system will always be superior, I believe it’s totally fair).
 
People are forgetting that we’ve always had content aggregation services. They’re called newspapers. Every day, thousands of editors sift through mountains of news stories, columns, letters and use their highly-tuned understanding of what turns their reader on, to piece together a compelling information package. It’s absolutely no different to what web-based aggregation services are doing, only I reckon the human will generally do it better.
 
Which makes it kind of hard for me to fathom, the millions of dollars being thrown at sites like digg.com. I can’t help but think their success comes down to 1) novelty value and 2) the fact that mainstream publishers have such shithouse online services.
 
Anyway, I’m ready to put my theory to the test. Me and memeorandum. If this generates enough interest, one day early January, when I’ll be able to devote a working day to it, I’m going to see if I can out-memeorandum, memeorandum. And then the blogosphere can decide. Human or machine – who edits best?

Filed under: Content Aggregation, memeorandum

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