July 2008
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Month July 2008

firef.ly goes public beta

We are pushing firef.ly into a public beta today.   Exciting stuff for us here at betaworks.   Firef.ly is a light weight messaging layer that sits on top of a site — permitting a real time perspective on who is where on your site and basic chat.   It’s intentionally light weight — no sign in, no install for users — one line of java script for the web site publisher (available here: http://firef.ly/install).  You can use firefly on this page — just slide the slider to the left and have fun.

Couple of thoughts here — first this is another layer application, something i have posted about before, second this is for me a return to days when you could just chat on any page — without the encumbrances of today, captcha’s, sign in etc.   Its a layer of the now web that we are experimenting with.    Yes yes i know it might get some spam — but web site owners have the ability to ban spammers and our hope is that the lightweight, spontaneous nature of firef.ly may open up some new conversations.    As it did a while back when we first trialed it on a Scripting post.    Last point — try the twitter feature — it sends out a message to your followers that you are on a particular page, its pretty powerful.   Have fun.

Summize acquired by Twitter

As announced this am, Twitter is acquiring 100% of Summize. Deals between two private companies are easy to consider and hard to close. In this case we had both companies on a tear and the teams on both sides who were interested in a partnership — the hope here is that what makes sense today only makes more sense down the road. Search on twitter will evolve into more than search — this is starting to happen today (more below), but bringing these teams together will only accelerate the pace of that evolution. The deal started with a conversation with Fred Wilson about how conversational search can evolve into navigation, about how important navigation becomes for UGC as you go mainstream — it concluded with the deal that was announced this morning. Betaworks is now a twitter shareholder, and excited to be one.

Finding a pain point
The history of most startup’s is made up of iterations, learning and restarts — Summize was no exception. The Summize team worked hard for a little over a year developing sentiment based algorithms aimed at crawling the review and blogosphere. Late last year they formally launched a web product that let you search reviews for books, movies and music. It worked well — offering summaries of all the reviews for a particular book, structured programmatically so they could be organized and swiftly digested by users or publishers. Yet it was complicated — not in theory or in its presentation — but in practice it was a complicated problem that most end users didnt know they needed. As an old friend would put it Summize v1. didn’t address a discernible need or pain point.

I remember early this year we took the Summize team over to meet with an executive at News Corp. After the WSJ/Dow Jones acquisition, News Corp. was thinking about data centric media and how conversational media — the blogosphere — can be mapped and structured in a scalable manner. Jeremy was fascinated by the technology but pushed us hard as to whether we knew whether people were really looking for programmatic structured access to sentiment. By March it was clear we couldn’t get the sentiment focussed company funded by VC’s — many people were interested but no one was ready to take the risk. I think this is part of the chasm between east and west coast companies — out west, interesting technology can and is often funded purely on the merits of the technology — out east, not so. At betaworks we decided to work with the Summize team repoint the technology — and launch twitter search. Why Twitter? Three reasons: there was a gap in the market for a scaled search / navigation experience of twitter, summize technology was very capable of providing and scaling a great search experience across the twitter’s live river of conversations and finally Twitter, the base data set, was growing like a weed.

Growth
It’s astounding how fast the Summize service took off. The growth is charted in this post. The premise was that there is a real time data distributed across services online that is hard to digest and that search is a well know metaphor to aggregate up these conversations into something meaningful for people. Twitter was the logical starting point — traffic was exploding and Twitter was quickly becoming a real time, one to many communications platform. Search is so often viewed as a destination experience — get this result and move on. Summize search is different — because its conversational and real time you keep searches running and open in tabs, you repeat them time and time again, to watch the conversation evolve and change — watch that refresh bar on any of the topics linked to above. The approach worked. Traffic exploded, not only on the UI but also on the API. Distributed, live search — very, very different to how search has been done to date on the web.

Now web
There is something new going on here. Somewhere in the past few months the way that I experience the Internet and specifically live information changed — there is a “now web” emerging out of an ecosystem of loosely coupled products. There has always been an immediate, instant component to the web and web communications — it goes back to mailing lists, IM, email & blog commenting. But its taking on a whole new form — the density of the conversations and the speed at which they emerge and evolve is different. I first sensed the shift with the trending topic list on front page of Summize. This is a feature that the team created right out of the sentiment based technology of Summize v1. The first night we launched v2. I recall seeing the word IMAP was trending — my first thought this has to be a mistake, but when I ran the search it turned out that Gmail was having IMAP issues. Then a few weeks later during a telephone call one participant on the call heard an explosion outside his home. He jumped off the call to see what was happening, Jay came back 5 mins later, shook up but with no idea what the noise was. This post shows the Summize stream of responses to a simple question — there had been a minor earthquake in VA. A few weeks later the earthquake in China was also emerged out of the twitter stream before it hit MSM.

We experienced this again last week — in full force — when we launched the bit.ly product. A deceptively simple URL shortener that we developed with Dave Winer. Six days after its launch bit.ly is on a tear. The launch last week started with a fantastic write up by Marshall Kirkpatrick — it moved from there into twitter and summize and within mins we were getting live feedback on the product, how to tune and test it, complaints about the lack of privacy policy and ton of great ideas. I am learning as I go — but its a whole new world out there and thanks to Summize we can converse with in a far more direct and organized manner. This should be evident again today — run a search for this or this and watch it evolve.

In summary
Summize is a great example of what we aspire to do at betaworks. Working with a great team of technologists who created a wonderful product, one that on the surface is deceptively simple — where the smarts are all under the hood. One that we helped launch and scale. Many thanks to the Summize team. Jay, Abdur, Greg, Eric and team worked very very hard to make this happen — they peered into startup abyss and decided they werent going there — you guys are smart and brave. Thank you to the advisors who worked w/ Summize the make this happen — Gerry Campbell and Josh Auerbach. And thanks to the Twitter team. I have great hopes for the joint team.

Also see Summize post by Jay

Summize growth

Summize organic traffic growth, week over week.   Its astounding to see the Summize business grow from 0 to 14M queries a week in over the space of two months (note I updated the chart with the past week) —  traffic over the past 2 weeks has made the insanity of WWDC hard to see on the chart.

A testament to what a great product and UI can achieve in no time at all.   This past week with the launch of bit.ly I spent much of my time on Twitter, Summize, Friend Feed and a handful of other services.  Google is playing nxt to no part in the now-web that is emerging out of this ecosystem.   Rafer also pointed me to this chart on compete.    More on search and navigation to come, for now some pictures — Summize traffic and a wonderful fireworks display from this evening in Shelter Island.

bit.ly a simple, professional URL shortener

We launched bit.ly yesterday and got an intense amount of buzz and attention.  We thought this was an important piece of the puzzle but didn’t fully appreciate the vacuum that we were running into.   A crazy day — Summize offers a great interface into the groundswell of activity — Nate, Jay and the team iterating and updating the service throughout the day (you can see the updates here). 

On the switchAbit/bitly/twitabit blog we did the official launch post.  Save you the jump here is the summary of what we offer and why its different

1. History — we remember the last 15 shortened URLs you’ve created. They’re displayed on the home page next time you go back. Cookie-based, sign in will come but the first rule of the game was keep it simple.

2. Click/Referrer tracking — Every time someone clicks on a short URL we add 1 to the count of clicks for that page and for the referring page.

3. There’s a simple API for creating short URLs from your web apps.

4. We automatically create three thumbnail images for each page you link through bit.ly, small, medium and large size. You can use these in presenting choices to your users.

5. We automatically mirror each page, never know when you might need a backup. :-)

6. Most important for professional applications, you can access all the data about each page through a simple XML or JSON interface. Example.

7. All the standard features you expect from serious url-shorteners.    

And it’s just the beginning, we’re tracking lots more data so that as more URLs are shortened by bit.ly we’ll be able to turn on more features.   Marshall talks about some of what we are going to do on the data side in the RWW article below. 

More to come on how this fits with switchabit, twitabit, findings — the cluster of services we are building.    For now some commentary:

ReadWriteWeb

Bit.ly Is a Big Deal URL Shortener

Scripting News

Alley Insider

Summize

NilsR