Sphere Blog

February 29, 2008

Journalists? Bloggers? Micro-Publishers?

attack.pngMark Glaser has an interesting post on the narrowing gap between bloggers and traditional journalists. As Mark points out, the distinction is less relevant more than ever. Traditional journalists blog, they write shorter articles, they post more frequently and they invite comments – all things the bloggers first demonstrated had appeal. Big blogs have Editors, Sales professionals and operate more like savvy publishers everyday.

I don’t even think of the big blog sites as blogs, they’re more like micro-publishers. They’re businesses. They worry about page-views, their brands and they sell sponsorships/ advertising on their sites at very high CPM’s. From our vantage point, this all makes sense. Why should the media industry evolve any differently than other industries where we’ve seen this phenomenon before (Music, Consumer Package Goods, Grocery Stores just to name a few)? In our widgets, we’ve already started adding some “micro-publishers” into our Related Media quadrant, thus moving them out of the Related Blogs quadrant. We’re not sure that’s the right approach but we feel like it gives some “traditional” blogs a better opportunity for exposure while not penalizing traditional media sites nor the larger blogs.

How do you think about this?

June 6, 2007

Doing the Unthinkable

Filed under: Notable — sphere @ 5:08 am

picture-26.pngScott Karp, author of Publishing 2.0 and a Sphere Related Content partner, has a great observation about how some of today’s most prestigious publisher sites are linking to other media companies’ content including blogs. This is a significant shift in the way publishers service their users. It signals that a publisher feels part of their offering is to make sure you, the reader, get what you need when you visit their site. If it happens to be a link to another mainstream media or blog article, that’s fine. As an avid on on-line content reader, I favor those sites that surface or point me to interesting content.

You can see Scott’s post here.

June 4, 2007

Sphere’s Document Genome

Filed under: Notable — sphere @ 4:14 am

picture-38.pngSince launching our Sphere Related Content FeedFlare and WordPress.org Plug-in, we’ve gotten a number of questions about how we magically make connections between content. We thought it’d be fun to share some background on how it works. I truly do marvel at how it works each time a new partner goes live with our Sphere Related Content plug-in.

Sphere’s contextual matching technology dynamically generates related content links without the need for any additional information beyond the article’s text. Part of Sphere’s “magic” is that it does not rely on, or need, any meta data, tags, links nor a taxonomy to understand the article topic. In essence, the article is the meta-data. This is a significant benefit to publisher partners and blog authors, as no work is required on their part to (more…)

April 11, 2007

Unshackled from Linking Power Laws…..

Filed under: Notable — sphere @ 9:26 pm

like-it-matters.png

…..well, we think it does!

Brian Oberkirk wrote a nice piece on how the Sphere Related Content widget creates connections where none previously existed – you can see Brian’s post here. As Brian points out, (more…)

January 6, 2007

TIME Person of The Year

Filed under: Notable — sphere @ 6:39 am

What strikes us most about YOU being the Time person of the year is that in coming so far into the future, we’ve really gone back to the past. Back to a time when all a card needed to get to you, besides postage, was your name and town, when the local librarian held the next book in the series you were reading and the waitress placed your order as soon as your smiling face came through the door. Back to a time not only when you liked your neighbors, but you relied on their collaboration.

In opening up this great big world of social connections we’ve made it possible for all our little preferences and opinions to be known by those who matter. Only this time it’s not the limited number of people in our small towns, but the entire networked world. Web sites greet you by name, hold onto your wish list, stock your favorites and show you what your friends bought. We link in with networking sites, hook up with dating sites, tune in with video sites and out with music sites.

Email is still the killer app. And probably always will be. But blogs may be catching up. If it weren’t moving so quickly, there’d probably be a better way to quantify it. And it would look something like a time when more people were given the means to speak their minds than any other in history. A time when information flew so fast and furious, from link to link, it took on a life of its own. It’s always hard when you’re living through something to imagine what will be said in retrospect, but it feels like we’re living through a great age for speaking truth to power. It’s part of our heritage to give people a voice and a chance to do good and for that we’re glad TIME chose YOU as the person of the year. We’re part of a great melting pot of people and ideas. Every vote, every voice, every opinion matters. Each one of us is unique with something to contribute. Blogs give us a way to have our voices heard with the potential to make a difference and as we know from the past, great things can be accomplished when we set our hearts and hands to work in earnest.

December 14, 2006

Blogs. What are they good for? Absolutely everything!

Filed under: Notable — sphere @ 11:01 pm

Including holiday shopping. Just check our gift guide featured blog picks for great ideas for everyone on your list. I’m still looking for a round up of gifts for pets, so if you come across one please send it to victoria@sphere.com.

Next year, forget fighting the crowds on Black Friday and the shopping site slowdowns on Cyber Monday. Hit the blogosphere for some serious shopping. The benefit? Honest editorial. These are products chosen by people, not necessarily retail buyers.

From handmade hats for babies chosen by moms, to eco-friendly items for the green and chic home, you’ll find some of the most interesting and original items anywhere on the planet.

I love the snow laden tree linked from Luxist. Now, if I could only figure out where to put it in my apartment …

Happy shopping!

December 1, 2006

Iconistan*

Filed under: Notable — sphere @ 8:47 pm

“No! There’s Iconistan. (Have you seen it?)
It’s the busiest new land that we know,
From the big, well know icons that populate it;
To the obscure, unknown icons below.”

“There’s a land where the reader experience is nameless,
And the links all run who knows where;
There are icons that are erring and aimless,
And icons that just hang by a hair.”

“Some say Webmasters were tired when they made it;
Some say it’s a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it
For no land on the web — and I’m one.”

At Web 2.0 and Om Malik’s and Niall Kennedy’s Widgets Live Conference, there was a lot of discussion and strategizing around widgets. Many of these widgets are activated when web readers click on the little icons they find at the bottom of article pages – a space we’ve started calling Iconistan. As an example. please take a look at Gigaom (http://gigaom.com/2006/11/27/wifi-phones/) – You’ll notice several icons at the bottom of each article: Digg, Stumble Upon, De.lic.ious, RSS and more — what’s interesting is the increasing number of places these icons are showing up and how little they do (most ask the reader to sign in, fill out forms, etc.) and, if anything at all, to add to the reader experience. Most often, readers don’t even understand what these funny little words mean. Yet, they show up – you already find them on mainstream sites, and in 2007, you’ll find them everywhere. The battle for inclusion next to articles/ blog posts is going to really heat up next year – it’s already started. To win inclusion, we believe you have to do two things: enhance the reader experience and drive additional page-views that can be monetized.

You’ll also notice the Sphere It! icon displayed with the above list – in contrast, it connects the reader to contextually relevant articles, blog posts and blogs. The ability to join the conversation is seamlessly integrated with Sphere never losing a reader to the dreaded sign in box or a constant labyrinth of links…We developed the Sphere Contextual Widget to achieve the above user experience and business model goals better than anyone. Sphere drives additional page-views (when readers click on the Sphere It! icon, that counts as a page-view; secondly, Sphere offers links to related posts from the journalist/ bloggers content repository, resulting in additional page-views for their site as well as enhanced navigation). Most importantly, Sphere adds to the reader experience, enabling readers to connect to additional content that adds to the discussion.

To date Sphere has partnered with Dow Jones Online Market Watch and Dow Jones Market Watch Blogs along with 50 of the top tech micro-publishers such as Techcrunch, GigaOm, ZDNet Blogs, Techdirt, O’reilly Radar, Battelle Searchblog and Infectious Greed. We’re trying to make Iconistan* a great place to visit.

*Iconistan (the title of this post was given to me by Kourosh Karimkhany at Conde Nast – thanks Kourosh!).

November 12, 2006

US News and World Report names Sphere “One of Five Internet Stars To Be”….Nice!

Filed under: Notable — sphere @ 1:06 am

This is a pretty cool article written by a U.S. News reporter who saw our Web 2.0 Launchpad presentation. Sphere is mentioned along with four others as one of Five Internet Stars To Be.

Suzanne

June 8, 2006

700 vs 70,000 – hey, where did all our zer0’s go?

Filed under: Notable — sphere @ 11:31 pm

As the world woke up to the news that Zarqawi, one of the most wanted terrorists has met his end it’s normal to find the blogger community all over it. I got an email from one of our users pointing out a huge gap in the results number for Sphere and Technorati. So I did a comparison. A search on Sphere @ 6:00 am PST yields 700 from the last day (its now up to 2,922 @ 4:20 PST) while a search on Technorati comes up with close to 72,349.

I thought about this during my flight. Can that be right? 70,000 blog posts on an event that happened a few hours ago? Seems like an awfully inflated number. So I spent some time surfing through their results. What does Zarqawi have to do with apartment rentals in Florida? Is anyone really clicking on Zarqawi collectibles from ebay? Gee, I hope not. And results from 2 days ago have nothing to do with what the reader wants in this case – that is one of the reasons we offer date ranges in our search results, it helps you narrow the time range and generally gets you results that are the most up to date with the topic you’re interested in tracking.

My point is, more is not always better. Who has the time or the patience? Especially when most of the results have nothing to do with the actual search you’re doing. The Web is about ease and convenience–it’s about saving time by having the work done for you. Sphere’s advanced algorithms filter out the noise and surface only the most relevant results based on more than just keyword matching.The number of results should grow as more people hop on the story, but when you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, a small pile on a platter with relevant matches is preferable to sift through.

May 12, 2006

week one in the rearview mirror

Filed under: Notable,Sphere Wrap-up — sphere @ 1:53 am

We’re really pleased with our launch – great exposure, lots of users playing around with the site, many kudos along with some constructive inputs. It was a good week, generating nearly a million page views, which really blows us away. It also underscored how helpful bloggers are about getting the word out – if you’re one of the folks who blogged about us, thanks – very much appreciated.

One data point that really jumps out is the use of our Sphere It! bookmarklet (we’ve had tens of thousands of downloads) and the high quality comments it received in reviews and personal emails. It’s our favorite app too so we’re pleased that others have quickly started using it to look for related blog content to the content you’re reading.

A few questions came up about the difference between Sphere It! and Technorati This! Both products try to give you content from the blogosphere that’s related to the web page you are currently reading. Sphere It! does this by doing semantic analysis of the page you are on and finding blog posts that talk about the same topic. Technorati This! does it by looking for blog posts that link to the page you are on. So if you are reading an article on the new CIA director, Sphere It! will give you the most relevant blog posts that also talk about him. Technorati This! will only give you the posts that happen to link to the specific article you are reading (which often miss or have no results at all). Here is an example (you need to download the Sphere It! and Technorati This! bookmarklets) that helps illustrate the point:

Go To Time – here is the current lead article on their home page (today at 2:37 pm) called “What’s Gone Wrong for Britain’s Tony Blair”.

Click on your Sphere It! button and it should bring you to a sphere results page – I’m showing 1,000+ blog post results talking about concepts covered in the article.

Now click on Technorati This! and you get 4 blog post results which are all duplicates.

This above example exposes some weaknesses that a link based approach (Technorati This!) has vs. a semantic analysis approach (Sphere It!):

  1. A lot of content has zero links from bloggers therefore the results set will be zero or shallow
  2. The freshest content is unlikely to have any matches or very few matches because bloggers haven’t had enough time to link to the content
  3. When there are results, they’re time based so you don’t get relevance, just the luck of chronology

Sphere It! results are:

  1. Immediate – we’re not dependent on links – we just look at the content, figure out what it’s talking about and then look at blog content and see who’s talking about similar things but from a blogger perspective
  2. We’re showing results for contextually relevant as well as links to the article

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