Interview with Findory Founder Greg Linden


Greg Linden, the CEO and founder of Findory, was nice enough to find some time in his busy schedule to do an email interview with me. As described on the Findory website, “Findory is about personalizing information”. Findory helps you make sense of news and information by recommending content based on past reading habits. You can read a more detailed Findory profile at TechCrunch.

This interview occurred solely via email over the course of several days. If you are on the go or too busy to read the interview, you can subscribe to my post-by-post podcast via Talkr by clicking on the “RSS Talkr” button on the sidebar or by simply clicking here.

What gave you the idea to start Findory?

Findory is about personalizing information. We are all feeling overwhelmed by the flood of information in our daily lives, and the problem will only get worse in the next few years. We need a way to filter, prioritize, and find focus. Personalization has been successfully applied to e-commerce where it helps people find books, music, and other products they may not have discovered on their own. We want to apply personalization to information in general, to help people find and discover the information they need.

Our first product is a personalized news site that learns from the news you read, searches thousands of sources worldwide, and builds you a personalized front page and news and weblog articles. It’s free and easy-to-use. Just read articles! Findory learns from the articles you read and helps you find other interesting articles. We also have early products in personalized web search and personalized advertising.

Findory was launched in early 2004. Was there any particularly big break that put you on the map?

Findory has been growing at a fairly steady rate of about 25% per month since we launched in January 2004. There wasn’t any one event that caused a major spike in growth. Since we are very small and have almost no budget for marketing, we have been fortunate to have received favorable coverage from local papers such as the Seattle Times, Seattle PI, and Puget Sound Business Journal as well as many prominent bloggers including Inside Google, Search Engine Watch, and Searchblog. Many people seem quite interested in the idea of a personalized news site that adapts to your interests. It’s unusual, something you can only do online, quite different than a normal print newspaper. It does make for a pretty good story.

Why do you think personalized news and information is so important? Why has it been so well received?

It’s hard to find the news and information you need. Skimming dozens of news sites or feeds takes a lot of time. Searching for news only works if you already know what you want or what is out there.

People need a way to cut through the clutter and surface the information they need. Personalization complements search. Personalization surfaces things you didn’t know about. Personalization helps you discover articles and news sources you wouldn’t have found on your own.

Are their any drawbacks to personalized content? Does it in some ways limit people by not exposing them to new ideas? (see iPod era of personal media choices may be turning us into an iSolation nation for what I mean)

The idea of a personalized newspaper has been around for some time — the “Daily Me” was what it was called in the mid-1990’s — and there has been some discussion of whether a personalized newspaper might pigeonhole people by only telling them what they want to hear. Findory had the benefit of hearing this debate and was built with the pigeonholing problem in mind. Our site explicitly avoids pigeonholing by showing a variety of articles around your interests. For example, if you read a few articles about events in North Korea, you wouldn’t only be recommended other articles on North Korea. Instead, you would see a broad variety of articles that interest people who read about North Korea — articles on China, Iraq, broader international news — as well as top stories that are generally popular or important. Yet Findory still targets closely to your interests, for example, showing articles about open source and Microsoft if you read about Linux, not just general technology top stories.

Recently, you added a feed reader to Findory. What prompted this move?

Findory is designed to be an RSS reader for the mainstream. Many have noticed that RSS is being used by many in the geeky early adopter crowd, but not by the mainstream, not by the grandmothers of the world. For RSS to enter the mainstream, we believe people shouldn’t even know that they’re using RSS at all. RSS is just a data format and should be hidden from readers. We think people just want to read news, so Findory makes it easy for people to read news pulled from thousands of sources worldwide without ever realizing they’re using RSS.

But we had received some complaints from power users who wanted more control of Findory. In particular, they wanted to be able to specify sources (e.g. BBC, Scobleizer, Wired) that they could read every day on Findory. Our new feed reader was designed for these power users, especially power users who are feeling overwhelmed by the tens or hundreds of feeds in their current RSS reader. Using Findory, the important news from their favorite feeds bubbles to the top, and power users can avoid or at least minimize the laborious processes of skimming the content from their hundreds of feeds to try to find something interesting to read.

Just to make sure I understand, are you saying that the way Findory works is by pulling in feeds from around the web? If so, what about sources without feeds?

Findory mostly crawls RSS and Atom feeds. We also do a little screen scraping for sources without feeds.

Being the small startup that you are, what is the biggest challenge that Findory faces going forward?

We are small, teeny tiny, just two people, self-funded. We’re the only ones doing personalized news at the moment, but all the search giants have talked about personalized news and information. It is daunting to be swimming with such big fish, the challenge nearly overwhelming. But with great challenges come great opportunity. We are building something no one else has done before. We are still ahead of everyone else. We are small, but we are quick and nimble. If we rise to the challenge, we should be able to use our size to our advantage.

What are your thoughts about the beta release of Rollyo? Is what Rollyo doing an important part of the personalized news and information puzzle?

Rollyo just launched recently. My understanding is that it is a search that you can configure to limit it to specific sites, a useful tool. Although this functionality is already available from other search engines, Rollyo puts a nice UI on top of it that appears to make it easy to search broad groups of sites.

As far as personalization, there are many other configurable search and news sites — My Yahoo, Bloglines, Google Alerts, My Google, My AOL, Start.com — but all of them require effort for you to explicitly customize the site to your interests. Findory is unusual in that it learns from your behavior. No configuration, no effort, no work. Just read articles and Findory gets better and better.