The Migration of Web Techniques to In-Store Retail Practices

Via ralphbijker on Flickr

Via ralphbijker on Flickr

Think about the companies doing the most technologically advanced stuff. Amazon. Google.

Grocery stores.

Say what…? The place where oranges sit in piles in the produce section. Boxes of cereal lines the aisles. The frigid ice cream aisle.

Well, they’re not in the league of Google and Amazon. But grocers are more than those aisles of food and ceilings of fluorescent lights you see. Two trends in the industry borrow heavily from the advancements on the Web:

  1. Website optimization
  2. Recommendations

I’m not talking about monitors with web pages inside stores. I mean the shopping experience has been affected by these developments. Here’s how.

Website Optimization => Store Layout and Merchandising

E-commerce sites live and die by their conversion rates. A key piece of the conversion rate puzzle is effective navigation and presentation of items to site visitors. One company that helps with that is  Tealeaf, which records and analyzes visitor behavior to help site owners optimize conversions and return visits.

In a physical space, you can’t record people’s clicks and actions. Or can you?

As reported in a recent Economist article, retailers are starting to video record shoppers’ behavior in the aisles. For instance, here’s how one supermarket used technology provided VideoMining to understand visitor behavior in its juice section:

Another study in a supermarket some 12% of people spent 90 seconds looking at juices, studying the labels but not selecting any. In supermarket decision-making time, that is forever. This implies that shoppers are very interested in juices as a healthy alternative to carbonated drinks, but are not sure which to buy. So there is a lot of scope for persuasion.

These are exactly the kind of metrics that e-commerce sites track to improve their conversion rates. Use of cameras in-store to do the same thing is analogous to tracking visitors to your website.

Personalized Recommendations

Amazon.com really led the movement to provide effective recommendations to existing customers. One report I’ve seen says that Amazon derives 35% of its sales from these recommendations. Amazon’s recommendations are generated from your shopping history, compared to others via collaborative filtering. The success of these recommendations has inspired others to build recommendation engine services, including Aggregate Knowledge, Baynote, MyBuys, RichRelevance and others.

The same thing is happening in-store as well. You know that loyalty card you present to your grocer to get discounts? It’s used to record your shopping history. Historically, grocers have done little with that information. It was more of a device to keep you coming back to the store.

But in the past few years, grocers have been getting hip to the idea that their customers’ shopping history can be used to personalize the shopping experience.

Once, I was product manager for just such a system, called SmartShop. Pay By Touch’s SmartShop used a Bayesian model to compare your purchases against those of other shoppers, and determine whether you exhibited stronger or weaker preferences for a category or product than the overall average. A set of 10 personalized item discounts were then selected for you based on your specific purchase preferences.

On a website, returning customers are presented with a set of recommendations as they shop. In-store, what’s the analog? Kiosks. Kiosks are the in-store interaction basis with customers. SmartShop notified you of discounts via a print-out from a kiosk at the front of the store. This was key – get you the discounts right at the point of decision, when you’re shopping. Not unlike e-commerce recommendations.

Prior to Pay By Touch’s demise, SmartShop was getting good traction among grocers, who were looking for ways to increase basket size, increase loyalty and differentiate themselves. And it wasn’t just SmartShop. Price Chopper and Ukrops use a recommendation system from Entry Point Communications. UK-based Tesco is the granddaddy of personalized recommendations, provided through Dunnhumby.

Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

While e-commerce benefits from being all-digital and various identification mechanisms, grocery historically lacked these. But that’s changing. Retailer have picked up the best practices of their online brethren. Things are now much more measurable and personalization is no longer the province of the online players.

Looking forward to grocers introducing Twitter into the shopping experience…

*****

For reference, here’s a white paper I wrote about SmartShop when I was at Pay By Touch:

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See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22The+Migration+of+Web+Techniques+to+In-Store+Retail+Practices%22&who=everyone

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Toluu Rolls Out Tagging {cool} {powerful} {discovery} {easy}

Toluu, everyone’s favorite blog recommendation application, has released a powerful new feature: tagging.

Tagging is a ubiquitous element of Web 2.0. As content creators and consumers add tags, everyone benefits. Things are easy to find, and there’s fun in clicking those tags – you never know what you’ll discover. I’m also a fan of the idea that tagging illuminates someone’s interests. Know someone’s tags, know their interests. A look to the right side of this blog shows the areas that I like to cover. As Toluu founder Caleb Elston has previously noted:

Tagging is super powerful. A few simple words can bring a ton of order and new usefulness.

And Caleb has followed up on that observation with powerful new tagging features in Toluu. Here is what’s new:

  • Tag Tab: Clickable tab for each blog page in Toluu, with several tag related features
  • Explore by Tag: every tag is clickable, leading to a list of related blogs
  • Inline Tagging: Instantly tag a blog right from a list of blogs
  • Users’ Tags: See the tags that a user has applied within the Toluu application

All in all, the features bring a new level of sophistication and community-generated perspective to the blog recommendations. Let’s check ’em out.

Tag Tab

The tag tab is chock full of information for every blog listed in the Toluu system. Here’s a screen shot for this blog:

Tagging: The top of the Tag Tab has an entry box for entering new tags. A couple of notes:

  • Tagging is multiple word, comma separated. Yes!
  • Tags are auto-suggested, based on tags you’ve used before. This is a great feature. It makes it easier to add tags, and enforces consistency, which is so important in tagging.

My Tags: These are the tags you have already applied to a given blog.

Top Tags: These are the most popular tags applied by others to a given blog.

Related Blogs: Each Tag Tab includes a list of related blogs. These are blogs that share similar tags to the ones applied to a given blog. This makes discovering a bunch of blogs with a specific area of focus very easy.

Follow the Bouncing Tag

In fact, it gets even easier to find blogs with a specific focus. Just follow a tag where it takes you.

Notice the nice distinction above? You can see blogs with specific tags applied by anyone in the system. Or you can take a deeper dive, and see what someone you trust has tagged.

Sorting: There are four different ways to sort the list of blogs by tag:

  1. Popular = blogs are ranked by the number of times they received a particular tag
  2. Recent = sort by how recently a specific tag was applied to a blog
  3. Subscribers = sort by the number of Toluu subscribers to a blog
  4. A-Z = alphabetical

Inline Tagging

To make tagging easy and pervasive, inline tagging is supported.

As you look at your list of blogs, you can quickly tag them. I like this because it makes the tagging process fast and easy. I don’t have to go to each individual blog’s page inside Toluu to add tags.

User Profiles Now Have a Tag Story

All this tagging by users has another benefit. You can quickly see what someone is all about when you visit their profile in the Toluu system.

This is great. Toluu isn’t a full-fledged social network, but you can use it to find like-minded people. From these like-minded people, you can discover other blogs of interest.

The tags of a user are essentially a form of self-identification. Like declaring what political affiliation you have, or saying where you work. This at-a-glance insight into someone’s interests is a great way to figure out new people to follow inside Toluu.

Are You Toluu-ing Yet?

Caleb and his team have done a really great job with this new functionality. A lot of attention was paid to ease of use, and the subtleties of information discovery. He has built in the notion of discovery via the collective wisdom of crowds, or discovery via trusted information filters.

Toluu continues to innovate. Click here to see all posts tagged ‘toluu’ on this blog. It’s an impressive list of activity.

If you’re on Toluu, follow me at http://www.toluu.com/bhc3. I’ll follow back. And if you’re not yet on Toluu, I’m happy to email you an invite. Just leave a comment.

Nice job Caleb!

Who Is Your Information Filter?

This comment by Michael C. Harris on FriendFeed the other day caught my eye:

Heaps of fantastic shares from unknowns get almost completely ignored and yet Scoble shares “Scoble” and gets 50 comments

Michael is hitting on something very important. In FriendFeed, not all shared items are created equal. I’ve noticed some people are really good at getting people to click through on a shared item and start a conversation.

I think of these people as the new Information Filters. They have a knack for getting their subscribers to check out stuff they find interesting. More so than your average social media user.

Over time, a logical outcome would be this: as the Information Filters share information with their subscribers, click-throughs and comments occur on that content. Which attracts new people into the discussion. Who then subscribe to the Information Filter. Which increases the click-throughs and comments. Repeat…

Good Information Filters can find themselves with a lot of power to direct traffic, and subtly influence what others take in when it comes to information. This isn’t without precedent. Television and the web are prior examples of this.

Migration of News Consumption Habits

Both television and the web have seen changes in the way people get their news. In both TV and the web, the changes are based on the strength of someone’s personality and judgment as to what the audience wants:

In 2004, CNN reported a Pew Research Center survey of news viewing habits. The survey found that 21% of people aged 18 – 29 got their news on the presidential election from Jon Stewart and Saturday Night Live. A follow-up report “Where Americans Go for News” by Pew also noted:

During these late night hours, many young people are tuning into comedy shows such as David Letterman and Jay Leno. Those under age 30 are among the most likely to watch these types of shows 17% watch Leno or Letterman regularly, compared with 8% of 30-49 year-olds and 12% of those age 50 and older.

What do Jon Stewart, David Letterman and Jay Leno offer that the traditional news broadcasts don’t? Humor, obviously. They also get to pick the most interesting news items for their shows. NBC News anchor Brian Williams noted the obligation of professional news organizations to offer news that likely doesn’t interest most audiences:

Some people call it ‘eat your peas’ journalism because it has to include everything that’s good for you to know to be a good citizen of the world. We put it out there.

In this comment, you see the larger societal obligation felt by the mainstream news media. They cover everything, even the stuff you don’t care for. There’s a tension between ensuring people get a full range of information about our multi-faceted world, and what people are willing to pay attention to.

The web has undergone a similar change in reading habits. Matt Drudge’s Drudge Report has eclipsed traditional news outlets in terms of influence. From The Telegraph’s article Matt Drudge: world’s most powerful journalist:

So much internet traffic can be directed to an item linked to by Drudge that unprepared websites have been known to collapse under the strain.

For politicians, the effect is akin to a needle injecting information into the media bloodstream. A positive story can give a shot of adrenaline to a flagging campaign. More commonly, negative information can be like a dose of poison being administered.

Drudge rose to prominence when he famously put the Monica Lewinsky story in play. Since then, his traffic has grown enormously. It’s not just about that one scoop. Drudge has a good sense about what is newsworthy. From the Washington Post blog The Fix:

The second major reason for Drudge’s influence, according to the Fix’s informal poll of Drudge-ologists is his ability to sniff out a potentially big story when others — including reporters — miss it at first glance.

“He can identify what’s a big deal even when the reporters who actually cover and report on an event don’t realize what they have,” said one GOP strategist granted anonymity to speak candidly. “He scoops reporters’ scoops.”

What do Jon Stewart, David Letterman, Jay Leno and Matt Drudge have in common?

  • They don’t actually find and report news (for the most part)
  • They only present what they find interesting
  • They have shrewd judgment as to what audiences will like
  • Their personalities are part of their effectiveness as news filters – people trust them

Each of these guys have emerged as a key Information Filter.  New social media platforms, such as FriendFeed, are starting to see the emergence of their own Information Filters.

You Are Who You Follow

This is something Robert Scoble emphasizes: you define yourself by who you follow. Early FriendFeed employee Kevin Fox described the general role of your friends on FriendFeed:

The nature of FriendFeed is that you start to think that the world is like you, because your friends shape your FF world. I think the FF world is full of Obama supporters, and other people thing it’s full of Twitterers. Pick your friends wisely because they define your FF.

In an equal world, information shared by any of your friends will merit click-throughs and discussion. But the practical reality is that some people will be more “equal” than others in terms of driving the discussion agenda. There are two highly correlated components to that:

  • Number of subscribers
  • Reputation for identifying what is interesting

The sheer number of subscribers make some people Information Filters. The big power users on Twitter: Leo Laporte, Dave Winer, Robert Scoble, Jason Calacanis, etc. These guys really drive discussions around ideas, opinions and news. If you subscribe, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the discussions they can kick off.

The reputation for finding interesting stuff is a little harder. Like Matt Drudge and Jon Stewart, you need to have a sense for what people want to know and find interesting. Some people are naturals at this, but I think anyone can learn how to identify interesting stuff.

Louis Gray is a really good Information Filter. Out of curiosity, I took at look at the last 30 Google Reader shares he put into FriendFeed. And I compared them to my last 30. I wanted to analyze the interaction around them: Likes, comments.

The chart to the right graphs the total Likes and comments for the 30 Google Reader shares of each of us. Louis is clearly good at putting things out there and having people discuss them. You’ll see the Likes and comments on his shares are double mine.

I consider Louis to be one of my Information Filters. He’s great at identifying the good stuff. And he takes this role seriously. He wrote a post Roll Your Own Blog Leaderboard with Google Reader Trends, in which he identifies the blogs he’s sharing most often.

The Effects of Our Information Filters

NBC News’ Brian Williams had this to say in response to the increasing application of personal filters to news:

Do you have a problem with people personalizing the news vs. you saying ‘these are the top stories’? Is there a danger in that if you give people too much personalization?

Williams: That’s for others to decide. I will say that if you’re using a filter, if you wake up in the morning and you have loaded up your computer, in other words to say, ‘Foreign news totally bums me out, this Iraq thing, it just ruins my day. Keep it away from me.’ Is that what [James] Madison had in mind, do you think? Is that what [John] Adams and [Ben] Franklin and [Thomas] Jefferson had in mind? Did they expect a little more informed electorate, to quote Mr. Jefferson? Did they expect a little more from us as citizens? I can’t judge people.

Democracy, on the other hand, looking at the argument, it’s their right [to filter]. I’m a lover of news and information, I’m a lover of American history, it’s my hobby. So if I had my druthers… Some people call it ‘eat your peas’ journalism because it has to include everything that’s good for you to know to be a good citizen of the world. We put it out there.

I can’t start programming the ‘NBC Nightly News’ with just the news that doesn’t bum people out. Just the news they want to see and hear. But I can’t stop someone from using filters, from using pay-as-you-go technology to get what they want. I will probably have my own opinion in a couple years about what we’ve become as a society as a result of if we stop getting the news that’s at all negative.

There’s a similar concern about over-reliance on our Information Filters in social media. That it becomes too easy to rely on what they find, and put in front of us. Robert Scoble asked a question that touched on this recently:

Hmm, how come you all like commenting on Google Reader Shared Items here in FriendFeed but you all do so little Google Reader reading yourselves?

Check it out for a good discussion around the merits of using FriendFeed exclusively for reading new blog posts.

Choose Your Information Filters Carefully

Brian Williams alluded to the “eat your peas” element of being an informed citizen. That is, take in information even when it doesn’t interest you. But that’s really fighting against human nature. We’re time-constrained, and social media has made it easier than ever to perpetuate our natural tendency to rely on the advice of friends for what is interesting.

So really, the best thing to do is to choose your Information Filters wisely.

What do you think? How do you select your Information Filters?

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Who+Is+Your+Information+Filter%3F%22&public=1

Using FriendFeed for E-Commerce

The secret sauce of FriendFeed is the development of a trusted network of referrals and commentary by users. People add users to and prune users from their subscriptions based on how well interests align. Once you subscribe to someone, you develop a good feel for their interests and perspectives over time.

This process lowers the barrier to accepting information from someone, as you learn to trust him or her.

In other words, fertile ground for e-commerce.

Seth Godin had a nice post a few months back, The truth about word of mouth. Here’s a quote from that post:

The truth about word of mouth. It’s hard. Sure, it’s hard for you. Your brand doesn’t get as much as you like. But that’s not what I mean. It’s hard for the consumer. A few people like to blab and babble. Most people don’t. They lay low, because they’re afraid or shy or just not used to talking about brands and products or experiences.

Getting people to talk about products they buy is the tough. Yet that kind if information is exactly what most of us are looking for. According to the Keller Fay Group, 80% of us trust recommendations from family, friends and influential persons over all other forms of advertising and marketing.

Think about your own buying decisions. Don’t you love it when you can get a solid recommendation on a product from someone you trust?

This got me wondering…does FriendFeed have an opportunity in the e-commerce space? Not as a direct seller of goods. But as a trusted referral network. With some added features, there’s a nice revenue opportunity riding the rails of the affiliate marketing world. And users would get better info on products.

But first let’s look at a previous effort here, Facebook’s Beacon.

Facebook Beacon: Misfiring on Three Counts

Facebook rolled out Beacon last fall. The idea is that you can broadcast your purchases from online retailers back into the Facebook newsfeed of your friends.

Well, Beacon was excoriated. Two reasons for this:

  1. Beacon’s user control and notification process were terrible
  2. People weren’t sharing a lot of external activity into Facebook, making it seem weird to have that suddenly occur

A third problem with Beacon, even for people that wanted to share product information, was that the product information passed through the newsfeed pretty quickly. If you happened to be interested in the product at that moment, great. But if you were in the market for a given product later, you couldn’t search for information about what your friends bought.

FriendFeed: All About Sharing External Things You Like

FriendFeed’s whole vibe is different from that of Facebook. You’re supposed to bring your outside interests into the site. Commentary and opinion is the order of the day. Interactions revolve around those interests, and accompanying commentary and opinion.

Why not extend that mentality to products that people buy? We already see things with a product orientation coming through FriendFeed:

  • Books: Book recommendations come through via Goodreads. For instance, Here’s a discussion around the book Spook Country. Users will also directly post recommendations, such as this one for Community: the Structure of Belonging.
  • Music: People stream in their Last.fm and Pandora music selections. What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong got a nice discussion going.
  • Movies: We see people’s movie tastes through NetFlix on FriendFeed. Here’s some discussion around the movie Hancock, with Will Smith.
  • Amazon: Amazon wishlists tell the world the things a user wants. Often these are books, music and movies. But a lot of interesting other products come through as well. Here’s a discussion around the Nikon D300 camera.

People are already sharing product-related stuff on FriendFeed. Which has incredibly high potential. Here’s what I mean…

Push vs. Pull Marketing

Louis Gray asked this question recently on FriendFeed:

I’ve seen a lot of stories lately around behavioral targeted advertising, and privacy. But in theory, wouldn’t you rather see more relevant ads? Isn’t this a good thing?

Many of the responses were suspicious of the tracking or didn’t think ads could ever be that relevant. Here are a few responses:

Jill O’Neill: “No. If I need to buy something, I’ll track it down on my own.”

Dobromir Hadzhiev: “I’m with @Jill, nothing beats the research, ads are and always will be annoying.”

Amanda Chapel: “Some of this stuff would make Joe Goebbels blush.”

Bwana McCall: “In my 16 some odd years on the internet, I have to yet to see an ad that I wanted to click on.”

A lot of good opinions, and they bolster the argument that making trusted product recommendations available when someone wants them (“pull marketing”) has advantages over running ads (“push marketing”).

This is why I think sites like FriendFeed, and even Facebook, have enormous potential in the world of e-commerce. They can become the source for getting recommendations and asking questions about products.

What Would FriendFeed Need to Make a Play in E-Commerce?

Say you’re an  expecting first-time parent. You want to buy a crib. Right now, that’d be a little daunting on FriendFeed. Here’s a search for the word ‘crib’. Lots of stuff there, but it’d be tough to use that for making a purchase decision.

Here are some things that would help users find products that their friends have purchased on FriendFeed:

  • An ‘Add to FriendFeed’ button at the checkout of e-tailer sites
  • A special designation of these streams from e-tailers as ‘PRODUCT’
  • The ability for users to hide all feeds with the designation ‘PRODUCT’
  • A tab on FriendFeed set up specifically for all feeds designated ‘PRODUCT’
  • Search of all ‘PRODUCT’ feeds
  • The ability to click a link on the product name, and be taken directly to that product on the e-tailer’s website

Once a user lands on the e-tailer’s site from FriendFeed, FriendFeed gets a cut of any purchases by that user, a la standard affiliate marketing agreements.

Users would get a much better way to find products they want. Just like the blog posts and articles that stream through, each person would likely specialize in product categories that fit their interests and knowledge. You would come to trust the recommendations of different users for different product categories. You’d have the person who knows cameras. Who knows home decor. Home entertainment systems. Running gear. Toddlers’ toys. Womens’ shoes. Flowers. Etc…

What do you think? Would you use such a system? I would.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Using+FriendFeed+for+E-Commerce%22&public=1

Hey Toluu Heads! Check Out the New Hover Boxes!

Toluu, everyone’s favorite blog discovery app, released a cool feature Wednesday morning. Hover boxes that show the last five posts for a blog:

Just put your cursor over any link to a blog, and the hover box appears. Anytime a blog is displayed in these places:

  • Profile
  • Matches
  • Feed Lists
  • Subscribers View

Discovery of interesting blogs just got that much easier. No need to click on the blog name and land on Toluu’s page for that blog. With a quick scan, you can determine your interest in the blog by reading the last five blog post titles. Founder Caleb Elston explains why this feature was rolled out:

We decided to build in this functionality when we found ourselves passing by feeds because we didn’t want to wait for the page to load or have to hit the back button if the feed wasn’t so interesting. Since we weren’t always willing to take a risk on a feed to see if it might be cool, we knew other users wouldn’t either.

And…the five blog posts listed are all hyperlinks that will take you directly to each individual blog post. My suggestion for Caleb – set the links to default as ‘open in new window’. I’d like to keep my Toluu window open so I can return to it.

Also, I think I see some FriendFeed inspiration for the new hover boxes…

As usual Caleb, really nice work on this feature. Both useful and usable.

If you haven’t tried Toluu, here are a couple posts that describe it:

If you need an invite, just leave your email in the comments below. I’ll shoot one out to you. And you can check out my Toluu page here.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Hey+Toluu+Heads!+Check+Out+the+New+Hover+Boxes!%22&public=1

Subscribe or Not? Toluu Just Got Better at Helping You Decide

A couple months ago, I had a chance to review Toluu, the blog recommendation site. The site is great, and has gotten really good uptake. In that review, I did write this:

I’d like to get a little more info about some of these blogs in a summary fashion, without having to click each one.

Well, Caleb Elston and team have delivered some nice new features that do just that. Here’s what is new at Toluu:

  • View the most popular posts from a blog
  • Who else has subscribed to the blog within the Toluu world
  • What other blogs those same subscribers have subscribed to recently
  • Posts now have datestamps
  • The contact page loads 5 times faster

The new features providing context around a blog are particularly interesting for me. Let’s look at those.

Toluu Before and After

Here’s a screen shot of the page for a blog before the updates. The most recent post for the blog is shown, without any date information.

Next, the same screen with the updates. Below, you’ll see new tabs for the blog: Recent, Popular, Subscribers. Also, note that the post for the blog now has timestamp information (“Yesterday”).


With the addition of the tabs, you now have quick access to more information about the blog.

Popular Posts = Better Insight into the Blog’s Best Stuff

As you’re checking out whether to subscribe to the blog, you click on the Popular link. This is pretty nice. The blog’s most popular recent posts are shown. At a glance, the user can see if the blogger’s top stuff is interesting. A good way to gauge what animates the blog.


According to Toluu founder Caleb Elston, the determination of what’s popular for a blog is “a combination of our own data mixed in with some data from AidRSS and soon a few more sources.”

The list shown for this blog is a pretty good indicator of popularity.

Subscribers = Who Else Likes this Blog?

This feature is really cool on a couple fronts. As a user deciding whether to subscribe to a blog or not, the list of subscribers provides a reference of sorts. Who feels like there’s enough “there” to warrant a subscription?


You can see what other blogs the subscribers have added as well. For example, I see that Corvida added Blogsessive. I checked it out, and decided to add it myself. A really nice way to leverage the filters of others in finding blogs you may like.

In fact, in terms of human filtering, you now have three ways in Toluu to handle that:

  • The algorithm-based matches to others
  • Your selected contacts’ additions to their feeds
  • What are the other feeds of people who subscribe to your blog

As a blogger, I also find this feature very nice. You may know your number of subscribers, but do you know who they are? Well, with Toluu, it’s pretty easy to see who some of them are.

Nice Job

These changes are a great step forward in helping you decide which blogs warrant your subscription. Better sense of the blog’s content. Better sense of the crowd that likes a particular blog.

My wishlist still includes better macro, summary recommendations for blogs. But all in due time. Hats off to Caleb and team for adding these excellent features.

Also – I invite you to check out my Toluu page: toluu.com/bhc3 If want an invite, just leave me a comment.

*****

See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Subscribe+or+Not%3F+Toluu+Just+Got+Better+at+Helping+You+Decide%22&public=1

WordPress Content Recommendations: Off to a Good Start

I love recommendations. Well done, they make my life easier and provide a great source for learning things I didn’t know. So I’m pretty excited about a new feature rolled out by WordPress.com, “possibly related posts”, on April 26, 2008.

At the bottom of blog posts on wordpress.com, you’ll see a list of several blogs under the heading, “Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)”. These are posts which should have some relation to the blog post you just read. WordPress is working with Sphere to deliver these recommendations.

There’s an priority ranking to the recommendations:

  1. Similar posts on the same blog
  2. Similar posts from around wordpress.com
  3. Articles, blog posts from elsewhere on the Web

Two areas are of interest here: (i) what recommendations appear on your blog; (ii) what other blogs are showing your posts shown as ‘possibly related’.

Recommendations That Appear on Your Blog

I surveyed five of my blog posts to see what were listed as possibly related posts. They’re shown below, along with a rating of ‘yes’ for related, ‘no’ for not related, ‘sorta’ for posts that might appeal to some readers of the blog post.

I. Ten FriendFeed Visitors Beats 1,000 StumbleUpons Any Day (link)

  • Wired blog: FriendFeed Offers Developers the Key to Build Custom Social Apps (link): no
  • New York Times: Friends May Be the Best Guide Through the Noise (link): yes

II. You Can’t Win If You Don’t Play: A Blog Hits 50 Posts (link)

  • This blog: When Your Blog Is LouisGrayCrunched… (link): yes
  • A wp.com blog: asylum street spankers, and a word about hits (link): sorta
  • CBS Sportsline: Major League Baseball (link): no

III. How Do Solo Bloggers Break into the Techmeme !00? (link)

  • A wp.com blog: break (link): sorta
  • A wp.com blog: Ichimonji No Kata – Raiko No Kata – Kukishin Dakentaijutsu (link): no
  • Scobleizer: New PR Trend: Anti-Gaming TechMeme? (link): yes

IV. The Best Blogs You’re Not Reading? Toluu Knows (link)

  • A wp.com blog: ‘A Fistful of Euros’ awards (link): yes
  • A wp.com: The demise of letter writing: oh, really? (link): yes
  • A wp.com: Reading blogs simply (link): no

V. How to Write a Farewell Email to Your Co-Workers (link)

  • A wp.com blog: How To Write Emails People Will Actually Read (link): yes
  • A wp.com: Email Etiquette (link): yes
  • A wp.com blog: Getting Better Results from your Email Marketing (link): no

The recommendations are off to a decent start. “Related” is a subjective measure, and my ratings above may not match what another reader would think.

How about comparing the WordPress recommendations to other sites? Here’s what Kleiner Perkins-backed startup Aggregate Knowledge’s discovery algorithm currently shows on the Washington Post story, “Failed Yahoo Talks Leave Google on Top“:

Only one of four are related to the Yahoo – Google story. Admittedly, Aggregate Knowledge doesn’t tout itself as a ‘related articles’ service, but their list of other articles should be viewed in this context: “Will people click on those links?”

And here’s what the New York Times shows as “Related Articles” for the article “Friends May Be the Best Guide Through the Noise“, which discussed lifestream companies FriendFeed, Iminta and others:

None of the ‘related articles’ relate to the story.

Recommendations for Your Blog that Appear Elsewhere

What’s interesting here is that you, as a blogger, can see what other blogs have similar subject matter as you. Oh, and the possibility of increased traffic doesn’t hurt.

I’ve really only seen clicks to this blog on ‘possibly related’ recommendations from two sites (with links to posts that include links back to this blog):

  • Scobleizer.com (link)
  • Alexander van Elsa’s Weblog (link)

Neither of those is a surprise. Both have good posts related to social media and Web 2.0, subjects which are covered as well. The ‘possibly related posts’ from this blog shown there are relevant to the posts on which they appear.

Final Thoughts

I’m a fan of this feature, which is still in its early days. It does have its detractors though. Here are a couple comments posted on wordpress.com about the feature:

I actually hate the randomness of this, even though you’re using an engine to try to find related material. Here’s why this is a horrible bad idea, and really, you should turn it OFF everyone’s blog unless they specifically ask for it: If I want random, unvetted links on a topic, I’ll google it. The REASON why blogs are a great medium is one of TRUSTED information. If I know a blogger is smart, savvy, well connected, and honest, I will trust THEIR opinions, and look to what links THEY supply. Making these robot-choices LOOK like they are endorsed by the blogger is where this really falls down, and makes me want to shut it off immediately and everywhere. It is so unfortunate that this is on by default. I will recommend to everyone that they shut off this feature. This is so anti-blogging, it’s not funny, and in fact sad coming from a trusted blogging platform. I bet if you took this issue to serious bloggers first, they would have chimed in overwhelmingly in the negative camp.

Morriss Partee

What it seems to be designed for is to keep the readers IN wordpress, which is understandably your goal. What it PROBABLY will do for individual bloggers is take the reader away from his or her blog into someone else’s blog within wordpress, a dubious result in my way of thinking. But what do I know?

Alice

Count me as a fan, and I hope they continue to iterate through improvements to the recommendations. I fundamentally disagree with Morriss Partee. Blogging is about conversations, even if they go elsewhere. If my blog post piqued someone’s interest and they click to another blog, that’s fine by me. I’d rather the reader have a good time than try to trap him onto my blog.

Go WordPress, go!

*****

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