TCS Daily


The Significance of Memeorandum

By Jay Currie - October 18, 2005 12:00 AM

One of the glories of the 'net is the ability to get all the news you want instantly. Add blogs, stir in NRO, Slate, TCS, Slashdot, ALDaily and a few others and shake. Instant information.

Just one problem: even with Instapundit like powers, you'll only see a tiny fraction of what there is out there.

When Dave Winer adapted RSS -- Really Simple Syndication -- he made it possible to have almost all your favorite blogs plus feeds from assorted news sources delivered directly to your desktop news aggregator. Very cool; but the danger of constructing your own, private, echo chamber impervious to new ideas is huge. Where will you find the disruptive thoughts that actually move the news?

Yahoo and Google have introduced "blog searches" and ways of subscribing to RSS feeds from their respective portals. But this is really only a variant on what is already available using desktop news aggregators. There is no intelligence or sorting principle built into these applications.

Enter Memeorandum.

Gabe Rivera has built a website seamlessly driven by a proprietary algorithm which fuses blogs and MSM stories into a one page intersection of instant commentary lined up with political news and tech news.

This is fresh. The algorithm updates every five minutes. It covers opinion: where else can you see TalkLeft and Powerline on the same page. It's a very quick read. And, amazingly, it is largely automatic. How automatic? Here's Rivera from his blog:

        "The source-picking algorithm...works roughly as follows: I feed it a number 
        of sites representative of the topic area I want coverage. It then scans 
        text and follows links to discover a much larger corps of writers within 
        that area.

        "The decisions for including sources are continually reevaluated, in such a 
        way that new sources can be included in real time. Think about that for 
        a second. As I wrote earlier, sometimes the author of the most insightful 
        analysis piece at 2pm was a relative unknown at 1pm. Real-time inclusion 
        is possible on memeorandum provided that author receives prompt enough 
        recognition by peers."

This is the second iteration of memeorandum, the first included excerpts from blogs on the front page. Now they are hidden. But it retains Rivera's essential philosophy which he enunciated on his blog:

        "Communication on the web naturally tends toward conversation. It follows 
        from human nature plus the Internet's immediacy. Blog posts react 
        to news articles, essays reference editorials. And links abound. Yet 
        most news sites do very little to relate the form of conversations unfolding 
        in real time. Some seem to deny that a conversation is even occurring. 
        I want memeorandum to be a clear exception."

So, while the NYT hides it columnists behind a subscription wall and rather hopes that bloggers will get bored and go home, Rivera has built what might very well be the Op/Ed pages' replacement.

Here's the thing, and it could only happen on the web, Rivera has built this himself. In an interview with Search Engine Watch, he said,

        "this is a one-person operation, with no backing, pursing 
        highly experimental ideas. So I'm unable to crank out a ton of technology, 
        and I'm kind of making up the plan as I go along.

Now, were I a VC or an MSM mogul looking for a way into the blogging world that did not cost 25 million dollars, I would be looking for exactly this sort of entirely innovative, zero cost, start up. Its revenue slot is currently occupied by a Salvation Army PSA but the site is a natural for advertising. Plus, as the very useful tech "vertical" shows, Rivera's algorithm can be adapted to pretty much any topic area.

The convergence and organization of the information and opinion flows on the net is one of the critical challenges for the next few years. Rivera may very well have created the algo which will, with the right support, do for news and blogs what Google did for search.

Jay Currie is a writer living in Canada.

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