Home Nine Recommendation Tools We Wish We Had

Nine Recommendation Tools We Wish We Had

…And The Best Substitutes We’ve Come Up With So Far

There’s so much content online every day that it’s totally overwhelming. That’s where good recommendation technologies and media outlets come in handy. As a blog that seeks to share the most interesting web technology and trends with readers, automated help with the discovery process is of great interest to us. Below, we discuss some tools we wish we had and the closest makeshift substitutes we’ve been able to come up with. Maybe you’ll find some of them useful or have even better recommendations to offer us and other readers.

This list is written from our perspective, as technology bloggers, but we suspect that many of the links and ideas below will prove useful in other contexts, as well.

Two tools that do exist that we like a lot are the FriendFeed Best of Day feature and the MyBlogLog recommended posts widget for WordPress.

First Finders

There may or may not be any such thing as a tipping point or a mysterious group of otherwise random market influencials online, but we’re pretty sure that are people who consistently find cool things before other people. We’d like to know who they are so we can look over their shoulder.

This is something that social bookmarking tool Furl.net at least used to do really well – they’d recommend users whose archives are similar to yours and you can choose which ones to subscribe to.

Nowadays we’re not sure if there’s any service that really does what we’re looking for, so we’re muscling through some data crunching by hand. This is the one work-around on this list that we can’t tell you about for competitive reasons – but we will say that if you want to find out what’s cool in web tech, early, you should pay attention to user experience designer Angus Fraser. We’ve never met Angus but the numbers we’re running say he’s our kind of guy. (Hi Angus!)

We’ll introduce you to more of the people that our experimental system is telling us to watch when we credit them for stories and cool websites they helped us find before our competitors have.

What You, Our Readers, Might Like

We’d like to have have, as one of our sources of story leads, an automated system that could suggest links that our community of readers would likely enjoy given their similarity to other things that we know you like already.

We know what some of you are interested in, anecdotally, through systems like MyBlogLog’s BlogJuice (right) but we’d love to get systematic access to that kind of data. We probably could if we decide to dedicate the resources to it.

Touchstone Sharers

Everyone wants to know who the big influencers are in social networks. Unscrupulous types want to buy them off but we’d just like to make sure we’re in the orbits of the relevant ones. They find good things and they are good to be found by.

For example, you may know that super networker Robert Scooble is coo-coo-for-cocoa-puffs over FriendFeed. (As are we, it’s great.) But you may not know that there are apparently more influential people there than Scoble, too. In one 8 hour period recently we counted the number of other people who “liked” the same items that Scoble liked on FriendFeed and found 254 people clustered around his promoted items. During that same period items liked by Mona N. were liked by 357 people! That’s why some people in the know call Mona the Queen of FriendFeed.

We’d like a tool that introduced us to those types of people in various social networks we participate in.

Comments That Need Immediate Attention

Spam filters are great but they aren’t so good at determining subjectively important or controversial comments on blog posts. For example, we put up a post about Barack Obama’s social media strategy right after the election. Our lead editors were all on flights back from the Web 2.0 summit and so we didn’t notice that some of the comments on that post were really offensive and needed to be dealt with right away. Some technology to highlight and prioritize delivery of those comments in particular would be really nice to have.

This kind of automated prioritization of emails was something that Yahoo! was talking about a year ago in terms of an Inbox 2.0 concept but we still haven’t seen it. The closest substitute we can think of is setting up a list of non-spam but high-priority keyword filters in GMail, then grabbing the RSS feed for that filter and subscribing to it in an app that we watch high priority feeds through.

Related Companies and Websites

When we write about companies, applications and concepts here, we try to provide some context by linking to related websites. That’s just good blogging, we think, but it’s much easier said than done.

This is the kind of technology we’ve fantasized about ever since seeing Austrian startup SystemOne at the DEMO conference in 2006. For now we rely instead on a collection of Google Custom Search Engines and that works very well.

Best Unknown Related Blog Posts

Speaking of linking, we try to link out to other blogs as much as we can and we’d like to be linking to smaller blogs writing about concepts similar to our posts. Automation of that kind of research tool would be really nice and is something that SystemOne or BlogRovr could help with. Evri looks great from a publisher’s perspective too, though it doesn’t look as valuable from a research perspective as we’d like.

This author is just now checking out Zementa (see Sarah Perez’s review this spring), which recommends related blog posts as you compose, but it’s not clear that the recommendations are granular enough to be useful. We’ll reserve judgment for now.

Zemanta Blogger integration






The best solution we’ve found to date is taking a Google Blogsearch feed for related keywords, changing the num=10 part of the URL to num=50 and then running that feed through PostRank. PostRank will take awhile to process it, but in the end you can see which recent posts about your keywords around the web got the most comments, inbound links, etc. That can help surface quality posts from sources you’ve never seen before.

Best of Our Own Blog Posts

We’d love to be shown related blog posts from our own archives as we compose new posts. We don’t know if there is technology that can help do that better than the system we’ve already got. We simply bookmark the link to a google search for “site:http://readwriteweb.com,” then visit that and add search terms to the query box. It works pretty well but relies on Google’s algorithm for relevance. That may or may not be helpful.

Best Blogs on a Given Topic

This has been tried many times before and there are new people trying it now – but when someone creates a killer ranked, categorized and extensive directory of topic blogs around the web, they’ll have the world at their door.

For now we’ve got a number of systems (six, actually) that work pretty well for us. Our favorite methods involve delicious and ask.com blogsearch.

Best Sources to Contact

It’s a real good day around here when we get to incorporate some expert opinion in an article we write. We love doing that. We’d love to know which of our existing contacts or people we don’t know would be best to contact regarding a story.

There is Help A Reporter Out and we should probably give that a try, but queries only go out a few times a day and we’re looking for immediate contacts, preferably by Instant Messenger.

We’ve used Twitter for this a lot, actually, and in some ways it works better than we can imagine almost anything else working. If you’re interested, check out our post How We Use Twitter for Journalism and see our favorite post written this way, APIs and Developer Platforms: A Discussion of the Pros and Cons. It’s pretty amazing that nearly every quote we got for the story was sent to us on Twitter.

How About Your Wish List or Recommendations?

We love recommendation technology because used selectively it can make us smarter and more effective. The field is just in its infancy, though, and we expect that many of our dreams will come true soon.

What about you? Do readers here have recommendation fantasies, favorites or tips on getting done what we aim to do with the hacks and workarounds above? Drop those thoughts in comments and we’ll all be smarter for it.

Photo credit: “I Love The Idea” Creative Commons by Flickr user apesara

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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