Tech Memeorandum is part of my daily reading list, actually I read it several times a day. There are several other "clipper" services out there that approach the problem from a slightly different angle. Blogs have exploded in growth and popularity over the last year. Finding good quality and popular content among the millions of blogs is the job of Memeorandum.
I had the chance to interview Gabe for this blog. Here is 10 Questions with Gabe Rivera, Founder of Memeorandum.
1. What were you doing before Memeorandum? Is this your first start-up?
Research on, and performance analysis of compiler optimizations, most
recently at Intel. No web stuff. First start-up.
2. When did you come up with the idea for Memeorandum? What inspired you? How long did it take you to build the first prototype, and ultimately bring it to market? How long have you been live?
Having watched the Jayson Blair debacle unfold on blogs, I became interested in the possibilities of blogging and wanted to try something new. Memeorandum 1.0 was kind of a "mainstream media meets political blogs" mashup deal, completed in spare time in about 6 weeks. It went live in January 2004. Example: http://www.memeorandum.com/04/04/01/ From this experience it occurred to me what I wanted in Memeorandum 2.0. This took about a year to build, as it involved developing a very powerful article scraper, plus components for filtering and organizing posts and source discovery. That went live September 2005. Throughout, the prototype was the product, and vice versa.
3. How did you publicize Memeorandum and build up your user base?
I shared what I was working on with a number of bloggers before launch. Most were happy to write about it at launch. Thanks Robert, Richard, etc! Since then, word of mouth/blog has continued to drive growth in readership.
4. How do you compare Memeorandum to Slashdot, Digg, Reddit, and others?
For readers of Digg (or Reddit, and to some extent, Slashdot), I'd say Memeorandum is:
- More focused (on either "Tech" or "Politics")
- More expert/authority-driven
- Better organized, visually
Of course for a certain type of reader, Digg's quirkiness, developer
orientation, and community are all pluses. Many who aren't as interested in
these things prefer Memeorandum. Many use both sites. It's all good!
For the more ponderous set, I'd add that unlike all of those, Memeorandum
thrives on the web at large -- it doesn't keep its editors and content all
siloed and centralized. Viva la edge, yadda, yadda.
5. How does Memeorandum decide what is important news? Some stories have no links, others have 10 or more links. How does content slide down the page over the course of a day?
Most-linked/most-discussed new stories are important. Actually, all stories have been linked. Items lack "Discussion" when people link without adding much commentary, since simple pointer posts usually aren't included on Memeorandum. Items fall down the page as they get older, or are displaced by bigger stories.
6. Reddit and Slashdot seem to use "expert/authority/reputation" systems to find and rank stories. Digg relies on its user community for "most linked/discussed" stories. These are two very different approaches. Memeorandum seems to use both approaches. I have seen stories on Memeorandum that are from expert sources with virtually no links or discussion, and other stories from lesser known bloggers that have several links. Does your algorithm measure both independently?
(Editors Note: For competitive reasons Gabe's answer was short and sweet. The algorithms used are the secret sauce and highly confidential. Revealing more about them would allow competitors to copy them, and allow users to "game" them to optimize their posts for higher ranking.
7. When I worked at AltaVista we tried to measure how effective we were at producing quality relevant results by asking users to rank the results. We were never quite sure if they voted a result higher because it appeared on the first results page rather than the third page, or because they really thought it was the best result independent of position on the page. Does Memeorandum try to get around the "follow the herd" mentality? I guess this is another way of asking how do unknown blog writers get noticed on Memeorandum?
I think people are too quick to dismiss as a "herd" the many people who emerge to discuss a dominant topic. Even when massive topic clusters form on Memeorandum, they often incorporate opposing or at least complementary viewpoints, with many of the more mundane posts reduced to a short "Discussion" links or omitted entirely.
Though I like to see "unknown" writers featured on my site, I don't view it necessarily as a goal for Memeorandum to do so. (Maybe "relative" or "former" unknowns is a better term.) I want Memeorandum to interest its readers, and expose unknowns accordingly. As a practical matter, Memeorandum can't make all or most of the unknowns happy. It is, after all, a filter, and there are an awful lot of writers out there.
8. Are you surprised at the high quality of the content on blogs? How are blogs affecting traditional news sources?
Not surprised. If I were, I wouldn't have bothered with Memeorandum! I
think experts of various stripes are finding blogging rewarding, and I
expect this trend to accelerate.
I'd rather avoid wading too far into media punditry, but it's clear
traditional media ought to evolve in a number of ways to remain both
valuable to readers and profitable. Among other things, I hope they go
deeper into blogging, making Memeorandum a better read.
9. What would you like Memeorandum to be in the next year or two? Something beyond Tech and Politics?
Yes, something beyond Tech and Politics. In fact, I've already developed
demos in other topic areas, but am putting off launching until I'm happy
with their quality.
10. What is your business model going forward?
I think certain kinds of sponsorships will mesh well with Memeorandum. More on this later this year. There are some other services I'm considering, but it's too soon to blather on about them.
Gabe Rivera is a very busy guy. He puts an enormous amount of time, virtually every waking hour, into making Memeorandum the best possible service. My email exchanges with Gabe were typically at 3:00AM or later. He never sleeps...and neither does the news.
Ironically, this interview with Gabe Rivera may not show up on Tech Memeorandum. The algorithm for choosing stories is blind to author and subject. It looks for popularity (links out to popular stories) and authority (links in from authoritative sources) in ranking stories. Similar in some respects to search engine ranking algorithms. Like it or not, it is an excellent proxy for what the vast majority of users want to read. And that is what Memeorandum is all about...filtering through millions of blogs to find the nuggets users really want to read. Memeorandum has done a brilliant job!