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Tuesday
Jul242012

Building a Better Techmeme


We live in an age of excellence as we've discussed.

Every product and service is being studied by entrepreneurs and consumers alike, who wonder, "How could this be a little better?"

One of the services I fell in love with over the past couple of years is Techmeme. It's a news aggregator like Digg, but it did something near and dear to my heart: human-powered search.

It basically automatically clusters hand-selected stories together from the top tech blogs and ranks them. If Apple has a new connector for the iPhone 5, Digg gets sold or Marissa takes over Yahoo, dozens of stories are clustered together so you can efficiently scan them.

I've loaded the page dozens of times a day for years. It's awesome.

However, over time, two strange things started happening:

1. Bloggers became so desperate to manage their presence on Techmeme that they simply reblogged the top stories. No added facts, just speed. As a publication, if you don't cover every Techmeme story, it makes it seem like something is wrong (e.g. why isn't AllThingsD or TechCrunch covering this story?).

2. Techmeme's team doesn't cover new products or services as much as it covers big, explosive stories. That is to say, if a dozen folks aren't covering the same story, it probably won't wind up on Techmeme.

I actually mentioned these issues to the founder, Gabe, but he doesn't see them as major issues. Perhaps they're not, but for me, Techmeme has become inefficient because of the two issues mentioned above.

So I thought about what would make Techmeme better, and I came up with the idea of a live ticker.

In the Lean Startup tradition I decided to start with the most lightweight version: two full-time researchers create a daily report for me in Google Docs. Only $2k a week to run this experiment, and so far the results are compelling: I'm getting 5x the amount of information in half the time.

A weird aside of this data-based summary is that I feel like I'm not missing anything important, and as a result I'm more focused on my work. I'm rarely clicking through to the blogs, because I've learned to trust that my researchers are giving me the most important facts. With 50 to 75 items a day, I'm getting through this document in well under an hour.

Anecdotally, I took my daughter to the San Diego Zoo recently, and was able to get up to speed in ~10 minutes when she napped.  

My researchers' instructions were really simple:

1. Just the facts in as few words as possible.
2. Only cover things you think I would find interesting/important (e.g., I don't care about the fluctuations in Mark Zuckerberg's net worth, but I do care about a new feature in Foursquare).
3. Give me screenshots, graphs and appropriate links as cleanly as possible.
4. Do it in real time.
5. Send me an email at 3pm with the day's news so I can read the facts quickly on my Blackberry (spacebar FTW!).  
6. Update it on the weekends.

I call it the LAUNCH Ticker and it's been running for about 30 days in alpha. Many of you have signed up for it (1,300+ on the email list - you can get it by updating your profile: *|UPDATE_PROFILE|*).

Google Docs is an imperfect platform for publishing this. It's slow when you have 100+ folks watching in real time (in fact it caps out at 49 in the chat room).

A couple of things I need help on:

1. I'm hoping I can find a more stable real-time system for it -- any ideas?
2. I'm looking for a full-time developer to help code a real-time system.
3. Any feedback on how to make it better?

Let me know what you think.

http://launchticker.com/

best, @jason

PS - I still load Techmeme on a regular basis and love it. So, this hasn't replaced my Techmeme addiction.