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!

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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

Weekly Recap 061308: Social Media Exposure

Social media means exposure…exposure of your life…exposure to people interested in and knowledgeable about subjects you like…exposure to things that might offend you…exposure for your company

*****

Had fun this week with my post Nudity on FriendFeed: What Are Some Sensible Rules?…I wrote it for two reasons…(1) to get a temperature check from FriendFeed members as to where they stand with regard to nudity in their streams…(2) to point out that users have some control over their exposure to such things…

Michael Hocter, whose Flickr Favorites entry prompted me to write the post, reports that he gained a lot of new FriendFeed subscribers…and he’s sticking with the nudes (NSFW)…

I also learned that showing a topless model in your blog post will drive site visits better than anything…usually, my posts have a greater number of subscription views than site views, but this post was the opposite…a lot of click-throughs to the blog…

One concern…the word nudity in the post will get me some unwanted attention from odd spammers…thank goodness for Akismet

*****

Interesting development…FriendFeed now has a ‘block’ feature…as I write this, the FriendFeed guys haven’t posted anything about it yet to their blog…but here’s what the text says when you use the ‘block’ feature:

After blocking this user, you won’t see any of their posts or comments on FriendFeed, and they won’t see anything you post. If they’re subscribed to you, that subscription will be removed.

Here’s how Bret Taylor describes the philosophy of the feature: “Blocking is not a filtering mechanism, but an abuse prevention tool.”…this is going to come in handy…

****

NBC News’s Tim Russert passed away today, from a heart attack…I enjoy following politics, and when I lived in Washington D.C., I couldn’t get enough of it…Tim Russert served up outstanding questions, a respectful demeanor and a tenacious pursuit for answers to his questions…I also enjoyed his book Wisdom of Our Fathers: Lessons and Letters from Daughters and Sons

Amazing array of items related to Tim Russert on FriendFeed…blogs, direct posts, news articles, tweets, photos, videos…

*****

Jeremiah Owyang asks Does the President need to know how to use a Computer/Web?…NO!…there are so many things that go beyond our technology world, why would we stress this?…give me an authentic leader, who can surround himself with a talented team, who has positions with which I agree, and who can drive an agenda at home and abroad…computer user is pretty low on my list of requirements…

*****

How FriendFeed has altered one of my behaviors…I often share only three items at once in Google Reader…three is the maximum number of shares that display with titles in FriendFeed…do more than that, and you get two blog titles visible, all others relegated to the dreaded “[N] more” link…

*****

Caleb Elston released new features this week for his company Toluu…those are great, but I thought an equally cool story was how Caleb leveraged his blogger relations and presence on FriendFeed and Twitter to spread the word…

I added up the Technorati Authority of the eight blogs that covered the new features…the combined Authority of 872 is the equivalent of getting a Top 5000 blogger to write about you, but even better…those eight different posts were bouncing to the top of FriendFeed over and over for each blogger’s set of subscribers, meaning the exposure was not dependent on one blog post getting traction…something to think about for future marketing…

*****

If you haven’t yet, make sure you check out Louis Gray’s post this week about The Five Stages Of Early Adopter Behavior…my favorite is Stage #4 “Sense of Entitlement, Nitpicking and Reduced Use”…I’m not an early adopter type (I still have a mini-brick Sprint cell phone), but I’ll have to watch myself for these stages…

*****

See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Weekly+Recap+061308%3A+Social+Media+Exposure%22&public=1

Smart Social Media Marketing: Caleb Elston and Toluu

Interacting with bloggers called vital for business

Brice Wallace, Deseret News, June 7, 2008

Toluu released several new features on Wednesday. The features are cool, and are covered in another post on this blog. Which leads to the point of this post…

Caleb Elston did a masterful job of getting coverage for his fledging company Toluu. By himself, with no PR firm. How?

Caleb is a participant in social media. He’s established relationships and credibility with bloggers, and with others on FriendFeed and Twitter.

In a recent post, I asked Will Brands Figure Out FriendFeed? The idea is that rather than rely only on standard press releases and marketing campaigns, companies should look at engaging customers out in various social media, with a focus on FriendFeed. Establishing these deeper relationships pays dividends:

  • Reliable audience for updates
  • Viral distribution of company information
  • Customer advocates
  • Feedback from the market, with the ability to follow-up on questions/comments

Caleb has all of these advantages through his efforts in social media. How involved is he? On FriendFeed, he subscribes to 278 people, has 248 Comments and 244 Likes. On Twitter, he’s following 479  people and has 734 updates. In other words, he’s involved. Which is actually pretty amazing considering he has a day job on top of building out Toluu.

Yesterday, his involvement paid dividends. He reached out to bloggers the day before to let them know of an upcoming release for Toluu, and asked us if we wanted to cover it. Well, since I know him already, saying ‘yes’ was easy. He got eight different bloggers to write about the new release:

The combined Technorati Authority of those eight blogs is 872, which is like getting a top 5,000 blog to write about you. Many of the bloggers are active on FriendFeed, which combined with their existing subscribers, meant that a lot of people saw the news about the new features.

Caleb describes the payoff:

All I can say is wow. Yesterday was an amazing day for Toluu, you helped us shatter every metric we track. We had a record number of pageviews, visitors, signups, new feeds, connections made, invites requested, and time spent on the site. All I can say is thank you.

He even picked up technology celebrity Leo Laporte as a user. Said Leo, “I’m in dire need of a feed reset!”

Admittedly, as a small start-up with limited resources, this is all he could really do. He can’t crank up the PR, marketing and advertising machine.

But that doesn’t devalue the accomplishment. Caleb managed to get people interested in his company thanks to his active involvement in social media.

Big companies…are you listening?

*****

See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Smart+Social+Media+Marketing%3A+Caleb+Elston+and+Toluu%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

When Your Blog Is LouisGrayCrunched…

Start-ups can go through the Slashdot Effect, the Digg Effect or be TechCrunched. Well, five blogs were LouisGrayCrunched on yesterday.

Louis Gray is a top blogger in the tech world. He covers a lot of good tech topics, perhaps best known for his early and bullish coverage of FriendFeed. Which has borne out quite well. But it’s not like he just plopped some cool blog posts and the world beat down his door. He was like most of us little bloggers! See his post here for background. Money quote: In early 2007,

Writing for my seeming one-person audience was at times frustrating.

Through perseverance, skill, finding his blog’s voice, and a bit of Scoble intervention, he slowly emerged over time to the big time blogger he is now. Basically, he figured it out.

So it’s no surprise he took the trouble to recognize 5 blogs yesterday in his post Five More Blogs You Should Be Reading, But Aren’t. See, he’s been there: “Not being one of the Silicon Valley elite, I’ve always had a soft spot for ‘the little guy’.” This attitude extends not only to promising start-ups, but to bloggers as well. He’s giving back to the blogger community.

The five blogs he recommended in his post:

  1. Charlie Anzman / SEO and Tech Daily (anzman.blogspot.com)
  2. Hutch Carpenter [uh..me] / I’m Not Actually a Geek (bhc3.wordpress.com)
  3. Eric Berlin / Online Media Cultist ( onlinemediacultist.com)
  4. Mia Dand / Marketing Mystic (marketingmystic.typepad.com)
  5. Carlo Maglinao / TechBays (techbays.com)

I didn’t know any of these folks before his post (see! even us little guys don’t do a good job of finding our peers!). But after being listed with them in his post, I suddenly feel some fraternity with them. The Louis Gray April 2008 Five.

I’m now a subscriber to my four other cohorts, via Toluu of course.

Some other notes from being LouisGrayCrunched…

Direct Site Hits. This blog hot six times its usual volume. It got 161 hits for the day directly from Louis’s site. Just as interesting to me were the FriendFeed hits – 41 of them. People are checking out Louis’s FriendFeed for discovery of new stuff. And there was nice discussion around his various activity streams. The blog also got a push from being one of the 7 fastest growing blogs on WordPress for several hours. 79 hits actually. Didn’t realize folks checked out that category so much.

Syndicated Site Views. WordPress doesn’t keep stats of RSS subscribers to your blog. But it does track syndicated views for each post. My top blog post for the day was The Best Blogs You’re Not Reading? Toluu Knows. Half of the post’s 250 hits were via syndication. I assume some of that syndication is through an RSS reader. A blog post about subscribing to new blogs ends up being viewed by a lot of new subscribers…coincidence?

The Rush. I won’t deny it. There was a rush to today’s action. I imagine big-time bloggers – like Michael Arrington, Robert Scoble – are interested in the mass traffic they get, but do not get a daily rush from seeing it. But if your little blog gets a one-day explosion of traffic, then yeah, you’re thrilled.

The Expectations. I do feel a bit different now than I did yesterday. A vague sense of responsibility to keep up the standards here. Louis actually expressed a similar sentiment in a blog post. It’s not a problem. I’m sure I’ll have some posts that folks will really like and a few duds too . Stick with me – it’ll be worth it.

Blogging Karma. In a post from a few days ago, The First 20 Blog Posts Are the Easiest, I talked about blogging karma:

Share the blogging love. Add new blogs to your RSS reader. Add links to interesting posts on other blogs. Post on others’ blogs. Add others’ posts to LinkRiver, del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, etc. And do it for the smaller bloggers, not just the A-list. This is something I need to improve on.

Thanks for sharing the love Louis.

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The Best Blogs You’re Not Reading? Toluu Knows

Toluu has entered the ever-growing recommendation space with something different: blog recommendations. And the service does a good job of finding blogs you’ll like.

I love the RSS experience of reading various blogs, loading up my reader with a lot of them and checking updates several times a day. So I was happy to have the chance to try this out. The service is new, launching in mid or late March. Louis Gray has a good post detailing its initial launch. Here’s a description of how it works from the Toluu site:

  • After joining, you will be prompted to import your feeds. We have many methods of importing your feeds such as OPML import, URL input, and a nifty bookmarklet.
  • Toluu will do some crazy math to find others in the system who have similar tastes as you.

One thing founder Caleb stressed on his blog: “Toluu is not another social network. I repeat Toluu is not another social network.”

So with that intro, let’s look at the user experience and how Toluu rates versus competitors. First, a brief discussion of recommendations.

Quick Note on Recommendations

The recommendations space is a hot area right now. For instance, Loomia, which recommends web content based on what your friends read, just raised $5 million. Amazon.com has been a real pioneer here with its “customers who bought this item also bought…” recommendations.

Ideally, recommendations are exactly matched to your interests. That’s pretty much impossible, but recommendations engines will employ proxies to get a bunch of recommendations that are close to your interests. And hopefully one or more click with you.

There are myriad ways to approximate your interests, and the world of recommendation engines is full of different methodologies. The key thing for most of them is (i) the amount and quality of information about your preferences, and (ii) the amount of population data available to build out recommendations. Toluu uses your OPML file of feeds, which is a very good source of data about your preferences. And Toluu improves as more people participate.

Finally, I’d want a recommendation service to mix highly popular items that I may be missing, as well as less popular items that are relevant to me. That latter category is the real jewel of a recommendation engine, and its the hardest to get right.

Toluu’s Organizing Principle: Match Percentage

Toluu’s primary organizing basis is its Match %. As Caleb mentioned above, this is their “crazy math” secret sauce. After you log in, you click on matches. A list of 5 people are displayed, sorted according to the Match %. The first 5 people you see are your highest matches. Each subsequent page shows the next 5 highest rated people. Each person has 5 feeds listed beside them. These “feeds you might like” are the top 5 recommendations per person.

I had 60 people in my list of matches. My highest match was at 91%. The bottom of the list was guy with whom I matched at 31%.

As I looked through the people that I matched, I noticed a trend. The best Match %’s were with people who had fewer blogs. The lower Match %’s seemed to be with people that had large numbers of blogs. I pulled together some numbers for 30 people to see if this was true. My top 10 matches, 10 people that fell just below the 50% Match %, and my bottom 10 matches. I then graphed it:


Sure enough, the higher the number of feeds for a given user (red line), the lower the Match % (blue line). I’m not quite sure what to make of that. It may be an outcome of the math – the match percentage is lower just because a user has so many feeds there’s no way to match. Or maybe I don’t match up well with the hard-core RSS addicts. I dunno.

One effect is that people who go deeper in their blog interests will fall lower in my matches. Assuming users don’t go too far down in viewing their matches, this could reduce the chance for finding those golden nuggets of less popular, but valuable blogs.

Top Toluu Recommendations Can Be Limited

I cruised through my people matches, and read the 5 “feeds you might like” for each one. There is a high degree of commonality on the recommendations. The 5 recommendations seem to use popularity as an primary input. And that makes sense. You’re providing a service, and popularity means somethings been deemed worthy by the public at large. Start with that!

Again, I looked at the top 5 recommendations for the 30 people I analyzed above. That meant I was looking at my top matches, my mid-tier matches, and my lowest matches.

There wasn’t a lot of variation in the top 5 recommendations for people in the different groups. Micro Persuasion, Engadget, Lifehacker, a couple Google company blogs and Boing Boing consistently showed up, regardless of the Match %.

This narrowness in the recommendations was something that Allen Stern at CenterNetworks wrote about. If you see a recommendation once, you’ll tend to see it repeatedly.

The Rubber Meets the Road: Toluu vs. Google Reader vs. NewsGator

So all that’s well and good. But how does the service perform? I decided to see how Toluu worked relative to two big established market players: Google Reader and NewsGator.

Google Reader has a Discover function. Here’s how it’s described: “Recommendations for new feeds are generated by comparing your interests with the feeds of users similar to you.” Sounds like Toluu, doesn’t it?

NewsGator has a Recommended for Me function: “NewsGator has analyzed your current subscriptions and post ratings, and recommended these new feeds for you.” Doesn’t say how that’s done.

I compared the top dozen recommendations for each of the three services. To assemble my top 12 for Toluu, I calculated the number of times the different blogs appeared in the 30 people I analyzed above. For instance, the blog Micro Persuasion appeared in 19 of the 30 matched users, making it #1. The table below shows those top 12 for each service:

One thing that immediately was apparent. No blog appeared more than once! Three different sets of recommendations and no overlap among Toluu, Google and NewsGator. Incredible!

I then checked out the 36 different sites. After a quick scan of each one, I decided whether it was one I would add to my RSS feeds. Those are highlighted in yellow above. NewsGator’s recommendations fell flat with me. They were too hard-core tech. Several had blog posts with lines of code on them.

Google Reader’s recommendations were the most relevant for me, with 5 that I liked. I subscribe to a number of Enterprise 2.0 blogs, so blogs like Intranet Benchmarking Forum and Portals and KM were good.

But Toluu did well here. The crowd was right – I like Micro Persuasion. Webware.com and Web Worker Daily are also interesting. There are a lot of Google blogs that show up in the recommendations. Maybe a bunch of Google employees are trying out the service?

More people joining Toluu will probably improve this some. At least push the Google blogs off the top recommendations. But there will be some reinforcing behavior as people join. Sites like Engadget and Lifehacker have large followings, and I’d expect a number of new folks joining Toluu to have those already.

Serendipity: Looking at My Top Matches’ Other Blogs

For each person in your match list, you see all the blogs they have that you don’t. It’s here where some of those golden nuggets, and even better known blogs, can be found. It takes work. You need to click each person, and then click each blog. There’s a limit to how much of this I wanted to do.

So I only looked at the feeds of my top 3 matches. And, I did find more blogs I’m going to add to my Google Reader:

  • Marshall Kirkpatrick
  • Adam Ostrow
  • BubbleGeneration
  • SocialTimes.com
  • mathewingram.com/work

Toluu Assessment = These Guys Are Doing It Right

I picked up 8 new blogs to follow courtesy of Toluu. That’s no small accomplishment. And considering they’re just getting underway and don’t have a ton of users yet, they compete quite well against Google.

I haven’t touched on other features of Toluu has. You can favorite a blog in your collection. I assume this helps the matching algorithm? You can track the activities of others to see what blogs and contacts they’re adding. But remember…this is not a social network!!!

Things I’d Like to See

I’d like to have an easier experience seeing the feeds for my top matches. Since there’s such a commonality in the top 5 for each of them, it would help me discover other blogs if I could see several of my matches’ unique blogs at once.

Show the top ten blogs recommended for me based on my top 10 matches. Criteria = frequency of a blog’s recommendations, with overall popularity as a tie breaker.

I’d like to get a little more info about some of these blogs in a summary fashion, without having to click each one. Maybe the headlines for the most recent 3 posts, or top tags of the blog?

But all in all, a very nice start for Toluu. Thumbs up here. Now I’ve got to go scan my RSS feeds.