Tech Dispenser: The human algorithm vs. the machine

If you are plugged into tech news like I am, you've probably bookmarked several of the tech news aggregators on the Web and visit them regularly, to see what's bubbling to the surface in terms of product news, debates, and trends. Google News is probably the most well-known news aggregator in the English-speaking world, and has a dedicated technology section which is a great place to check out some of the tech-related headlines in the popular press and IT publications. If you are into tech blogs, you've probably visited one of the blog aggregators, such as Techmeme or Megite. Both are useful services, and provide a convenient pulse of the tech blogosphere throughout the day without having to build and monitor a large collection of blog RSS feeds or bookmarks. The content that appears on all three aggregators is excerpted from news articles, blogs, and discussion forums. Of course, the content is written by humans, but the excerpts are placed on the aggregator websites by computers. The aggregators use proprietary algorithms which chose individual articles or blog posts based on a number of factors. For Google News, the factors seem to include the number of other news sites that have recently published articles about similar topics, as well as more obscure characteristics, such as the location of the publisher (i.e., which country the website is headquartered). Headlines, the names of the publications and a link to a list of other publications that have articles about the topic make up a typical block on Google News. For Techmeme and Megite, blocks include a collection of blogs that link to another blog or a news article. The aggregators are extremely efficient in finding and highlighting news or topics of discussion, but there is a flaw that all share: An inability to identify quality content. Computers are good at counting the number of links pointing to a specific blog post, or measuring the number of topical keywords in a news article. But they are incapable of spotting a scoop, let alone an elegant analysis of a technology trend. Hence, we see lots of highlighted articles and blog posts on the aggregator sites that are simply repeating what someone else has already said, or weak writing samples that are a waste of readers' time. A few sites use deceptive SEO techniques and other weaknesses in the algorithms to manipulate the aggregators to get their articles or posts to the top positions, and on several occasions I have seen suspected astroturfing campaigns highlighted on the blog aggregators. This is where Tech Dispenser comes in. This tech blog aggregator, created by Computerworld, depends on the "human algorithm" -- i.e., editorial intelligence -- to spot the blogs that have original opinions and special observations, while avoiding repeaters and astroturf. Tech Dispenser will also cover enterprise computing topics -- hardware, applications, storage and security -- not just consumer technologies and interesting Websites. We have a lot of experience at this sort of thing. For nearly two years, the daily IT Blogwatch has highlighted some of the best IT blogs on the 'Net, almost every day. But  IT Blogwatch only has one edition per day, follows a single theme, and includes meaty excerpts [see yesterday's edition, Microsoft shines a silver light on WPF/E (and TotD), to get an idea how it works]. Tech Dispenser is focused on multiple topics and multiple updates throughout the day, with only brief excerpts or headlines. The blogs that participate in Tech Dispenser are vetted by Computerworld. An approved blog that joins the Tech Dispenser network also participates in a revenue-sharing agreement that entails placing ad modules on its pages. There are many more details relating to the ad modules and overall business plan, but I will let my colleague Tom Pimental (who oversees Computerworld's audience development efforts, and came up with the basic idea behind Tech Dispenser) explain them at a later date -- perhaps closer to the launch, which we expect to occur later in the spring.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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