Posts tagged "interviews"

Interview with Sproutit CEO Charles Jolley

I first came across Sproutit via Web 2.0 Central and was immediately intrigued by the blurb I read:

Everyday, small businesses, bloggers and freelancers waste hours answering their e-mail. This fall Sproutit.com will introduce the first software built exclusively for small businesses and individuals to solve this problem.

To this point, few details have been released about Sproutit’s first product – Mailroom. Mailroom is a web based e-mail management system designed exclusively for small businesses. It is set to debut at the prestigious DEMO conference next Monday (2/6) but I’ve been lucky to get a sneak peak – and I’m giving you one too (including a screen shot).

Charles Jolley, one of the founders and the President and CEO of Sproutit was kind enough to give me a demo of Mailroom and to do a little interview. In this interview, we discuss some basics about Sproutit, whether Sproutit is a “Web 2.0 company”, and of course take a look at Mailroom. The interview below was facilitated via Writely. Enjoy.

What’s the story behind Charles Jolley and Sproutit? What’s the origin of the Sproutit name and how did your team come together?

Sproutit.com was founded by Chris Bauman, Peter Gohman, and me in March of 2005. We started Sproutit because we believe that small businesses should have access to the same powerful software tools big business use.

The three of us met in school at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. After graduation, we decided to launch a business together. Once we got to talking about our past experiences trying to find good software to run our small businesses, we knew what we had to do.

Since then, the three of us actually moved to Prague, Czech Republic to help launch our business. This is the internet after all–we can be anywhere. We thought: why not some place that is both exciting and 40% cheaper than California? We will only be here for 10 months or so, but it has made this startup unforgettable! We actually write about our experiences here on our blog, The Big Act.

Before Sproutit, I actually started my first company in 1997 right out of high school. But after 4 years and the dot com boom and bust, I decided that I needed a real education in business so I left the company and started school. During school, I started another business that provided the very first native word processor for Mac OS X, Okito Composer. Later I sold that to Nisus Software and helped them launch their award winning word processor Nisus Writer Express.

We chose the name “Sprout it” because that is what we want to help you do with your business: help it grow.

According to your Our Story page, your “mission is to build a suite of web hosted business applications uniquely designed for very small businesses.” Why ‘web hosted’ and why for ‘very small businesses’?

Business software can save you a lot of time and money. It can free you from more mundane tasks so you can focus on things that are more important, exciting, and fun. Unfortunately, most software is built for big companies. So we decided to focus on small businesses, especially those with 10 employees or less, because we want them to have this software too.

One thing small businesses do not have, though, is time. One of our goals is to make sure all of our software can be setup and used within 10 minutes. The best way to do this is with web hosted software. There is nothing to download and install. Just log in and get to work.

Is Sproutit a “Web 2.0″ company?

Definitely!

Some people think the whole Web 2.0 term is played out, but I disagree.

Broadly, Web 2.0 is about a new wave of innovation on the web. Thanks to tools like Ajax, RSS, tagging, and Ruby on Rails, we can create web-based applications far cheaper than ever before. This has inspired a lot of innovation that everyone should be paying attention to and having a good name helps spread that idea. That is why I think the term “Web 2.0″ is still important to use.

We are using Web 2.0 technologies to make once expensive business software easy and affordable for small businesses. We are one of many doing innovative things with these tools and I think it is good for all of us to be associated with “Web 2.0″

Tell me about your first product “Mailroom”. Why did you decide to start there?

Well, it sounds boring, but we did market research! We actually talked to about 30 small businesses from around the US. We found that most of them were spending up to half of their day just answering emails!

We thought: “what would happen if we could give these businesses that half of their day back?”

So Mailroom can sort, organize and even suggest replies. Best of all, it actually learns how you work. You just start using it like normal and in a few days it will take over and basically do everything for you. Email will be assigned to the right person, tagged and replies suggested. All you have to do is log in to approve the replies. Instead of spending hours on email, you spend minutes.

It’s perfect for mail sent to contact, sales, support, etc.

What’s the most compelling benefit of Mailroom?

Mailroom takes the work out of email.

It not only saves you time, but the time you do spend is not as much effort. You don’t have to organize your emails anymore, you usually will not even need to write a reply. You just get to do the fun part: hearing from your customers and interacting with them.

What are your thoughts on e-mail as a communication paradigm? Is it dead? Is e-mail so 5 minutes ago?

I think that in general there is a movement away from doing everything through you email inbox. The problem is we all get so much email, it’s hard to tell what we need to act on and what we can ignore. By using other tools to work together, you can reduce the amount of email you receive so what email you do receive and get the attention it deserves.

This is one way I think Mailroom can actually help make email more useful. Email from public addresses such contact, sales, or support, can generate the most email to clog up an inbox. Mailroom can take on this email and take it out of your regular inbox. That leave your regular email for what is best for: one-on-one communication.

Can you speak to the pricing of Mailroom and other applications? Will there be any free service or a trial period?

Mailroom is a web-based service. You can try it free for 30 days. We have several plans available ranging from $19 to $199 per month. There is no long term commitment, so you can cancel at any time. We also have a free version that you can use if your needs are very limited.

What should we look for from Sproutit going forward? Is there some sort of roadmap for the release of other applications?

You can expect to see a lot more business software from us designed just for small businesses. We plan to introduce our next product before the end of 2006. In fact, we are already using it to help run Sproutit. It will integrate with Mailroom, of course.

Interview with Rollyo Founder Dave Pell

My first ‘encounter’ with Dave Pell came when I submitted some feedback to Rollyo during their public beta launch – he subsequently addressed my points via email.

For those not familiar with Rollyo, it allows a user to create a “personal search engine using only the sources you trust.” I’ve used it extensively for searching Web 2.0 terms, concepts, companies, and products via my Everything Web 2.0 Searchroll (I recently wrote about how to use this Searchroll via some of the advanced Rollyo tools).

My interview with Dave gets to the core of his service, examining things like the Rollyo value proposition to the ‘Average Joe’ and the Rollyo business model. I think you’ll find it quite interesting. As usual, the interview was conducted via email. Enjoy.

Dave, I usually like to start out these interviews by learning a little bit about you. What has kept Dave Pell busy to this point in his life?

For the last several years I have split my time between investing and blogging. I am the managing partner of Arba Seed Investment Group and I have invested in and advised more than 30 companies over the years. I started writing a newsletter called Davenetics during the early years of the boom and it has since morphed into a blog where I cover politics, media and pop culture.

Tell me how you came up with the idea for Rollyo. Why did you see a need for it and what problem is it trying to solve?

I used to teach high school in Brooklyn and my first foray into the web world was the launch of a non-profit site for Bay Area high school students and teachers called The Learning Bridge. One of the features of the site was a search engine that indexed all of the school and district sites that were part of our program. Since then, it has seemed clear to me that it often makes sense to narrow searches by source. When I ran the Learning Bridge, I had to use a software solution to index the sites myself. Once I got more familiar with today’s powerful APIs, I realized that I could create a site to empower anyone to build a personal search engine in a few seconds. And that search engine has all the same relevancy power that users have come to expect. Yahoo provides the search engine and we give users the steering wheel.

From my perspective, the Rollyo marketing approach leading to your launch was pure genius. For those that don’t know what you and your team did, please quickly re-hash your approach prior to opening up your doors to the public. I’m most interested in learning how you got people by the likes of Debra Messing to ‘roll their own search engines.’

We had a two tiered effort. The first goal was to get some well- known bloggers to roll searches. I wanted to get my friends in the blog world involved early on so that we’d have some great examples for first time users to test drive. I also wanted to get pre-launch feedback from people who think deeply about these kinds of products. The second goal was to get some great personal search engines (Searchrolls) to be rolled by celebrities to make the site more interesting and welcoming to general web users. I was fortunate enough to get some great folks like Debra Messing, Rosario Dawson, Brian Greene and Arianna Huffington to roll some celebrity (and also some extremely useful) Searchrolls.

How has Rollyo been doing since the launch? Do you possess some sort of metrics to track popular search terms or how often particular Searchrolls are being used? Is there any means for a creator of a Searchroll to find out how successful or useful their Searchroll has been to the larger community?

The site traffic and incoming links have both been growing quite steadily, especially given that we are still in beta and have thus far spent next to nothing on marketing. We do track how many people save a particular Searchroll. So far, the best place to find this data is on our Explore page where we list the ten most popular Searchrolls based on the number of users who have save them to their list of favorites. Very soon, every user will be able to see “Who’s Rolling with Me” on their Rollyo profile page.

In regards to the metrics question and what I consider some very powerful Rollyo tools [link], is there a way to determine how many users have added a particular Searchroll to their Firefox Toolbar or how many have added a Searchbox to their websites?

We are tracking both those pieces of data, but we are still building out the tools to analyze it. I can see both of those tools growing based on our referrer logs and general traffic, but I don’t have any pretty graphs quite yet. The stat that we currently track quite closely is how many Searchrolls have been created and that number is just about to top 10,000.

The tools I mention above really reach out to power users. But how are you marketing this service to the typical user of Google or Yahoo!? Do you think Rollyo adds value to the ‘Average Joe’ Internet user?

We built this site, from day one, with the average user in mind. In many cases, I think the Average Joe is more overwhelmed by information overload than the power user. Therefore, Rollyo is perfect for them. Our key goal will be to demonstrate Rollyo’s usefulness to that broader audience. So far, I think we’ve had some success in this area. During the first few days, many of our Searchrolls were on early adopter topics like CSS and Web 2.0. Today, we are seeing a much wider variety of personal search engine topics. The thing that has been the most rewarding for me is that a lot of teachers are making Searchrolls for their students and pointing them to Rollyo. This really brings the idea behind Rollyo back to its origins.

Many people are questioning the business models of new web start-ups ’ basically, they don’t believe there are many except ‘buy me’. It’s lead to talk of ‘Bubble 2.0’. Can you speak to your business model and strategy with Rollyo?

We have a few areas that we will be exploring over time, but to start, we will be monetizing our search results with paid listings much in the way all the major search engines do. That is certainly a proven business model.

What’s next for Dave Pell and Rollyo?

We are getting ready to announce a few partnerships and we are also testing several exciting new site features to make Rollyo even more useful for our growing community. I’ve really learned a lot based on user behavior and feedback, and I am excited to improve the site in the coming weeks.

Interview with Strategist and Blogging Guru Dave Taylor

I first met Dave Taylor at the Blog Business Summit this past August. He was the first presenter and by my estimates, one of the best (feel free to check out my notes from that particular session).

I’ve kept in touch with Dave since then and his Intuitive Life Business Blog is one of my must-read feeds. Dave is a thoughtful and independent thinker, who is not afraid to challenge the status quo. Look no further than his response to the most recent Forbes’ cover story – Forbes “Attack of the Blogs” is surprisingly accurate.

In this email interview, I covered a variety of things, including asking Dave about the future of blogs and his thoughts about them being a ‘fad’. I also got him to reveal some of his super secret blogging tips. Enjoy.

Dave, you seem to be a jack of all trades and well, a master of many. Your services range from management consulting to technical solutions. What’s your background and how are you able to do so?

I’ve been involved with the technology industry and research community since 1980, so you could say I’m an old-timer in Internet terms. I have a BA in Computer Science, an MS in Educational Computing, and an MBA, I’ve launched four startups, most notably The Internet Mall, Inc., and have been involved with at least a dozen more companies at various stages in their lives. I’ve published 20 books on business and technology subjects, most recently The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Growing Your Business with Google (at http://www.findability.info/) and, coming in December, Let Go To Grow, co-authored with IBM exec Linda Sanford.

Pulling all of that together, I’m a fast, nimble strategic thinker and have a clear vision of where I believe things are heading, so I advise a lot of companies about how they can grow into the future, what opportunities they will see, and how to gain maximal competitive advantage as their own business ecosystem evolves along with the national and global economies. The fact that I can talk with corporate executives along with the IT staff in the trenches proves tremendously useful too, because I have a strong sense of what’s possible, what’s easy, and what’s virtually impossible to achieve without significant struggle.

How does blogging tie into the strategy and marketing of your services?

Blogging is a tremendous tool for communicating with my market segment, for engaging with future clients, and for staying current with the state of the art in business strategies, market communications, and similar. I really don’t see blogging as anything magical, to be honest, but rather view it as the evolution of a toolkit that makes it very easy to engage in an effective and illuminating dialog with my customers and peers.

I approach this from two angles. On my Intuitive Life Business Blog I explore business and management issues, often delving into specifics of blogging and how business blogs can help companies communicate their message to key constituencies, while on my more informal Ask Dave Taylor weblog I field a wide range of questions ranging from the incredibly technical to more high-level business issues, with lots of other curious and interesting Q&A thrown in the mix just for fun.

I don’t believe I would have much credibility as a blogger if I didn’t have at least one solid, credible, highly-respected weblog, but I also really enjoy the discipline of clarifying my own thoughts and having to achieve a level of coherence that allows me to then communicate with my readership. That’s why you’ll see I often write about subjects a week or two after the ‘quick off the mark’ bloggers have written and forgotten about them. I believe that thinking about things rather than reacting to them is underrated.

I’m not sure if you read an article entitled Beware the Fads of the Future by Sean Carton a couple of weeks ago. In it, he classified weblogs as a fad. Are they?

There are always naysayers whenever a new technology or approach arrives in the business community, but if you don’t think of blogging as a unique solution but rather as the next evolutionary step in interactive Web site management, then it’s hard to see where it could be a fad. Clearly even the most critical analyst isn’t going to say that Web sites ‘were good enough’ four or five years ago, so it’s hard to understand what they don’t like about businesses using blogs as a management and communications tool. In any case, no, it’s not a fad, it’s a new way of engaging with your marketplace.

Will every company one day have a blog, thus nullifying the advantages of blogging? Will having a blog eventually become similar to the progression of every company now having its own website?

I believe that the tools that blogs are helping create will become more and more pervasive, creating less differentiation and certainly diluting the meaning of the word ‘blog’, but that’s a mark of success, not failure. In the future, companies will have more engaging and interactive Web sites and make it easier, not harder, for their customers to engage in a dialog with them. Sounds like a better world, if you ask me.

You’ve branded your main blog and professional services as The Intuitive Life. Why? What does that mean?

No deep secret. I’ve called my consulting firm Intuitive Systems since the day I formed it in the late 1980s, so when I spun off a separate business and management blog, it seemed natural to call it ‘The Intuitive Life’.

Anyone who visits The Intuitive Life will see that you write on multiple blogs. Unlike many people who have more than one blog, you regularly post to all of them with rather thoughtful and fresh ideas. How do you do it? Where do you get your fodder from? Do you have a specific method or schedule that you follow throughout the week?

I wonder about that some times myself. There are days when I feel like I could just sit in front of the computer and pound out dozens of articles on a variety of topics, and other days when the proverbial well is dry. My inspiration comes from reading about 175 different RSS feeds (including all the major news sources and wire services), regularly reading the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Wired and the New York Times, along with participating in a dozen or more active business discussion lists and attending as many business mixers and networking events I can fit into my schedule.

With my Ask Dave Taylor site, I receive 10-20 questions a day from readers, so it’s usually more an issue of picking out the best to answer than having to make up any entries of my own. And thank goodness for that!

In terms of my methodology, I don’t really have one. I have so much experience as a professional writer that I can just sit down and type and within 5-10 minutes usually have a draft posting ready to go. Then I’ll read through it a half-dozen times to clean up grammatical issues and clarify my points, add any relevant or useful links to external sites, and flip back and forth between ‘preview’ and ‘edit’ until I’m happy with the entry. Then I press ‘save’ and away it goes’

What are three Dave Taylor super secret tips to blogging success?

Let’s see:

  1. Stay focused on your topic ’ ideally on issues that your customers are interested in knowing more about or problems they seek to solve.

  2. Write clearly and have an opinion or some analysis of what you’re talking about. People want to know what you think, not just have links to other sites.

  3. Don’t ignore grammar and spelling. Clarity and credibility are just as much an element of conveying your thoughts in a professional manner as is having something smart to say in the first place.

What are the three biggest mistakes that bloggers ’ both personal and professional – make on a regular basis?

Another quantification, eh? Let’s try this again:

  1. Wandering too far afield from your topic: if you’re writing a business weblog, don’t inject commentary about your politics, religious beliefs or similar. Personal bloggers don’t have that issue, but really, there are precious few people in the world whom I care enough about to want to read about their latest dining experience or their fight with their significant other.

  2. Making things up, spreading innuendo, or criticizing people or companies based on gossip or unfounded rumors. It’s not professional, it’s not nice and it doesn’t reflect well on your own efforts.

  3. Not giving credit where it’s due. If you read something and that sparks an idea, be generous with your credit and always link back to your sources. Indeed, that’s a very blogosphere-friendly technique anyway that’ll pay dividends.

What is it that excites Dave Taylor when he wakes up in the morning?

My children, my wife, and my family life overall. I enjoy what I do professionally, but most days I’d rather play with my kids and hang out than go into my office. But I blog about that too, on my parenting weblog: http://www.APparenting.com/

What are you mainly working on these days and what projects do you have in the pipeline?

With the success of my Growing Your Business with Google book, I’m spending a lot of brain cycles thinking about my next book, a more strategic work that captures my vision of the future of business and how marketplaces are evolving. ‘Nuf said for now, but stay tuned as I flesh out my ideas on my weblog.

I also work with a lot of different entrepreneurial clients, ranging from realtors to inventors, startups to established, well-funded medical companies, helping them achieve clarity in their business vision and then coach them on the most effective methods of communicating their core values to their marketplace.

Somewhere in that mix, I do a lot of public speaking, ranging from presentations on blogging and findability to various business and community groups to guest lecturing in college classrooms to running workshops and speaking at conferences. I’m a consistently highly rated speaker and enjoy helping others share my vision of the future of business.

And, well, lots of other irons in the proverbial fire, but you get the basic picture, I think.

Finally, thanks for interviewing me. Great questions, and I hope we provoke readers into some thoughtful and entertaining responses.

Interview with Blogniscient Founder Ben Ruedlinger

I was first introduced to Blogniscient via an email from its creator, Ben Ruedlinger. Blogniscient intrigued me because it attempts to distill the blogosphere’s biggest buzz for categories like politics, technology, and entertainment via its proprietary Article Ranking System. In layman’s terms, Blogniscient provides a snapshot of what bloggers are talking about, somewhat similar to memeorandum.

Blogniscient Screenshot Ben passes through Washington D.C. quite often and as a result, we’ve had the opportunity to sit down and chat at length about Blogniscient. I planned this interview with him over a month ago but he’s actually become my client since then. Thus, I’ve edited out my “what’s next” questions because I’ve assisted Ben with what’s planned for Blogniscient in the coming weeks and beyond and it’s more than exciting.

As usual, this interview occurred via email. Enjoy and stay tuned for some breaking Blogniscient news by subscribing to my feed.

Ben, what is Blogniscient? How long have you been working on it?

I originally came up with the idea for Blogniscient in December of 2004. During the elections, I started reading quite a few blogs. Even using RSS, I quickly found it to be too time-consuming to keep up with all of them. This led me to the idea for a service that would aggregate and rank blog information in different areas. The purpose of the service would be to extract the most compelling entries and display them in an easy-to-use format.

I soon realized that in addition to providing an efficient interface to the Blogosphere for seasoned blog readers, Blogniscient would be an ideal medium for introducing the multitudes of people who are not familiar with blogs to this invaluable source of information.

Thus, Blogniscient was born with the goal of providing a bird’s eye view of the Blogosphere. Blogniscient’s Article Ranking System (ARS) continuously scores each of the articles within various blogs as the information propagates throughout the Blogosphere. The top blog articles and top blogs are presented by category in a simple yet rich interface.

At any given time, readers can quickly and conveniently get an overview of the hot topics in a particular category, and zero in on the information they want to learn more about.

How is Blogniscient different than a blog search engine like IceRocket or user generated news services like digg?

The most common methods for finding information are searching and browsing. Searching is an extremely powerful approach when looking for information on a particular topic, such as the 2003 GDP of Uganda.

Browsing, on the other hand, is the method of choice for finding out about the latest developments. Browsing provides exposure to a broad collection of information at a high level, and allows users to locate topics of interest for further exploration. As an example, I visit news.cnet.com to find out what is happening today in the tech world. Of the 20 available articles, I may skim 2 or 3 of them. If one is particularly interesting to me, I may then search for more information on that topic.

While services like IceRocket, Google Blogsearch, and Technorati provide the ‘search’ functionality within the Blogosphere, Blogniscient’s goal is to provide the ‘browse’ capability.

The latest stats I found from the Pew Internet & American Life Project showed that only 27% of American adults have ever read a blog with 5% doing so on a typical day. Is there a reason why more people aren’t reading them? Will Blogniscient somehow reach out to those who are not part of the blogosphere?

Blogs have been all over the news and are even featured regularly on mainstream media outlets like CNN. There is an amazing amount of high quality information and analysis available on blogs that cannot be found anywhere else. So why aren’t more people reading them? First, most people don’t know where to go to find blogs. Second, people don’t have a clear understanding of why the information contained in blogs is valuable to them.

To understand how to solve these issues, it is helpful to look at the adoption of the World Wide Web. When the Web was first gaining mainstream popularity (circa 1996), Yahoo!’s Directory provided an organized starting point for people to browse and explore the available information. Millions of people took advantage and quickly came to understand the value of the Web. Blogniscient aims to give similar structure to the highest quality information in the Blogosphere, thereby allowing people to explore the space and to see the value of the information contained therein.

Memeorandum has really captured the attention of those in technical circles because it “it uncovers the most relevant items from thousands of news sites and weblogs.” At first glance, Blogniscient appears to be doing the same thing or something very similar. From our previous discussions though, you seem to have a different approach and different goal with Blogniscient. Can you speak to those differences and your Blogniscient vision?

One of Blogniscient’s main objectives is to allow users to readily find high quality information that is relevant to their interests. As such, Blogniscient strives to provide a broader representation of the Blogosphere than sites like Memeorandum. While Blogniscient’s coverage is currently limited to four main categories (US Politics, Science and Technology, Sports, and Entertainment), our goal is to create a comprehensive directory of the Blogosphere. In addition to adding more top-level categories, we intend to expand the structure of the existing categories to encompass more sub-categories. Ultimately we would like to provide extensive listings for each sub-category, to the point where we have (for example) a separate sub-category for each major sport, and a separate area for each Major League team within that sport. (If this seems extreme, consider that there are over 50 blogs dedicated to covering the Chicago Cubs alone!)

By categorizing and ranking the information at this level we will empower readers to easily locate the best material on all of their favorite topics.

Quickly summarize for me the biggest challenge Blogniscient currently faces and how you hope to address it.

Blogniscient’s biggest challenge lies in reaching the many people who don’t currently read blogs. We will continue to expand our areas of coverage and refine our rankings, in hopes that word about the quality of our product will continue to spread as it has since our beta launch last month. In addition, we would like to partner with some of the mainstream television and online content providers, to allow their viewers and readers to harness the power of the Blogosphere.

How about giving the readers a couple of hints about the exciting Blogniscient changes they can expect to see in the coming weeks?

Well, without saying too much, there are many changes in the works. We are making a number of improvements in direct response to the valuable user feedback we receive daily. To encourage even more feedback, we’re making some changes that will allow us to communicate more effectively with users. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we are expanding the site with an eye toward our goal of being the portal into the Blogosphere. We hope that users will find the site valuable and will tell others about it.

Interview with Sphere CEO Tony Conrad

Sphere ScreenshotLast week, I contacted Tony Conrad for an interview about Sphere, a new blog search engine presently in private beta testing. Tony, who is the CEO of Sphere was gracious enough to agree, amidst a very busy schedule. I’ve been lucky to beta test Sphere and think Tony and his team are off to a great start. As usual, the interview was conducted via email. Enjoy.

Tony, tell me a little bit about your professional experience to this point. What were some of your past projects?

Prior to co-founding Sphere, I was a general partner in an early-stage venture capital fund where he led consumer-tech and marketing software and services investments. I served on the boards of directors for Oddpost (acquired by Yahoo), Iconoculture, MusicNow (acquired by Circuit City), and Centive. I also played an active role managing investments in Post Communications (NASDAQ: NTVS) and Stoneyfield Farms (acquired by Groupe Danone). My roots are in consumer marketing. I have worked with early-stage-growth and public-branded companies. I was director of mergers and acquisitions for Groupe Danone, a leading $30+ billion global consumer packaged goods firm, where I focused on brand extension opportunities through mergers and acquisitions in Southeast Asia. I also held several senior marketing management positions with Groupe Danone, the last of which was brand manager of new product development for Gervais-Danone France.

Describe your involvement in Sphere – do you work more on the technology or business side?

CEO. My principal job is to create an environment in which my two cofounders can focus on building great technology.

Considering all the other blog search engines out there, why Sphere? What is different about your approach? What makes it better?

We thought we could build a much better blog search engine, one that would find relevant content to match a blog reader’s keyword search query. It’s a very simple idea but really hard to do. The blogosphere is growing incredibly fast. When we started, there were around 5 million blogs. Nine months later, there is more than 18 million blogs. With an increasing number of people reading, writing, and commenting on blogs, finding relevant content has become increasingly difficult. For a variety of complex technical reasons, current blog search services deliver less-than-satisfying results. These reasons include an exclusive emphasis on freshness, or a too simplistic computation of a blogger’s authority. Our algorithm sorts through all those blogs, super fast, and finds relevant content to match a blog search query.

With those thoughts in mind, what’s your Sphere ‘elevator pitch’?

It starts with relevant results and fast performance. Our new relevance-based algorithm discovers new blog posts as they’re created, indexes them within minutes of being published, applies rich semantic analysis and makes them searchable by relevance or time. Plus, we’ve got a few fun, helpful features that we think make for a richer user experience.

How is blog search important to those outside of the blogosphere? Will Sphere attempt to reach out to those types of users or have any features that will cater to someone not familiar with blogs or blog search?

If you’re not interested in blog content, we’re probably not the best service for your needs.

I noticed on your blog and on the Sphere about page, you listed what you consider two types of users for Sphere. The second type being “publishers who would like to integrate high quality blog content into their websites.” Can you provide a little more detail about how this second case would work? Is that going to cost money?

Throughout our development, we’ve been in constant dialogue with a small group of highly respected publishers about their plans to integrate user generated blog content into their website properties. Our conversations lead us to believe there is an interesting market opportunity servicing the needs of publishers. Specifically, we will syndicate contextually relevant information and search capabilities to publishers, vertical portals, complementary search engines, and weblog hosting companies. Integrating relevant blog content into publisher website properties will result in increased traffic, more ad views, and higher ad revenue.

How is Sphere addressing technical concerns such fake blogs, splogs, and scalability issues?

Sphere’s relevance/authority algorithm rewards authentic blogs and penalizes splogs, fake blogs (flogs?) etc. by taking into a account a wide range of data points (metadata, link patterns, posting patterns) that we gather about a blog.  Fake and spam blogs are a big challenge for any search engine that indexes them, because they’re so damaging to the user’s experience, but overly aggressive approaches can led to false positives.  Our algorithmic approach has yielded great results so far, and improvements to our algorithm are ongoing.  Re: scalability, our technology has been deployed in high-volume settings for several years and we’re positioned for a smooth transition to a scalable service after our beta period.

What was the biggest challenge you faced with Sphere to this point?

Securing the name! Creating our user interface was a difficult task, lots of tradeoffs.

Any rough timeline for when Sphere might show its public face?

Two areas need to be addressed prior to a public market launch: 1) we need the input on the quality of our website and search results from our beta users; and 2) we need to purchase servers to scale the number of users on the site.

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