Say Hello to Highlighter

highlighter-sm-promoMost people have encountered some sort of personalization in their use of the Internet.  If you’ve bought anything on Amazon, you have definitely seen the “People who bought this also bought….”  It’s an amazing feature that makes Amazon a lot more useful, but, sadly, it only works on Amazon.  Why can’t Amazon purchases give me great recommendations on ebay?  Why don’t the things I read on the LA Times help me find great stuff on USA Today?  Wouldn’t it be great if the whole web could understand me and show me great stuff everywhere I go?
Today, we are excited to launch Highlighter, a little Chrome extension that is designed to “highlight” a personalized newsfeed of what you might want to read on any content site you visit.  No biggie, it just personalizes the whole freakin’ Internet.
Here’s how it works:
  1. Install Highlighter for your Chrome browser from the Google store here.
  2. Highlighter uses your recent browsing history to get to know you and build your Interest Graph based on the content you’ve been reading
  3. As you surf the web, Highlighter shows this handy dandy tab when it thinks there are stories on the current site you’re visiting that you’ll likeScreenshot 2013-11-04 14.09.06
  4. Click the tab to see the whole newsfeed of content Highlighter has picked just for you.Screenshot 2013-11-04 14.09.22
  5. The more you use it, the smarter Highlighter gets.
We are always looking for ways to make tools like Highlighter better. Feel free to inundate us with any and all feedback at highlighter@gravity.com.
We hope you enjoy it!

Personalization Will Drive Publisher Empowerment

There’s a seismic shift in the way publishers are relating content to users and its going to realign traffic acquisition across the web. I spoke about it at a recent Digiday Summit that you can view here:  http://vimeo.com/77916277

Publishers are re-architecting their sites to include more streamy, information-dense-feeds and relying on personalization to drive the organization of information in those feeds.

Much like how search’s information-dense-feed, powered by link graphing, tailors itself to your inquiries or Facebook’s feed, powered by the social graph, arranges stories for you based on your friend’s interests, publishers are seeking ways to intelligently organize information for each user.

Gravity builds Interest Graphs for every user on the webbernet. Its a complex, nuanced and massive undertaking. It requires our little start up to rack our own servers (no Amazon hosting, folks) to confidently operate at the speed and scale necessary to take on this task. This Interest Graphing, in real-time, and the ability to deliver relevant stories per user is transforming the web. Instead of users hitting the back button after they gobble up a piece of content, a publisher’s information dense, personalized feed will introduce the next relevant piece of information for the user. This dynamic will path that user forward into more articles on that site or send them to other partners who will then owe that traffic back to the traffic origination point.

Ultimately, as more publishers adopt personalization, they will re-establish themselves as valuable destinations for users and valuable partners for each other, shifting the balance of traffic acquisition across the web.

Roberto

Braveheart

The Gravity Office Tour: Santa Monica Edition

flag from main street

We have been conveniently located on the corner of Ocean Park and Main Street in downtown Santa Monica for the past 2 years. In the beginning we were just a dozen scattered desks in the Suite 300, but now we have grown and expanded our office to the second floor.

Let us enter the space where Gravity’s magic happens: The Penthouse Suite

amits penthouse

You can take the elevator or the stairs to enter our very own Tech Workshop. The open office encourages teamwork and entertainment. Four large monitors line the back wall, updating the Gravity Team with daily activity and sometimes flashing a funny cat video or the surf cam.

Monitors

Tucked away behind the Tech scene are a few private offices for our co-founders Jim and Steve, our VP of Engineering Richard, and a meeting room full of couches and presentation boards.

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The main office is divided by a retractable airplane wing, which we use to screen presentations during team meetings. Pretty sweet, right? Yeah, it came with the place.

airplane wing

If you aren’t impressed yet, let me show you our private rooftop. The view of Main Street is crucial and our flag waves high above for all to see. You can catch the team eating lunch or taking calls on the roof, but the action doesn’t stop there. We have personalized our roof to meet all of the teammates’ needs.

roof surf

When the roof is packed or the office is too noisy, you can escape to the crow’s nest. This little lookout is the perfect space for a private call or meeting. Just go up the red spiral staircase and close the door. Don’t sit on the beanbag chairs too long, they are really, really comfortable.

crows nest

Behind those big glass walls is the office to our CEO, Amit Kapur. Though he is no fan of having a secluded office, his frequent meetings with the team and industry leaders require a comfortable space for conversation and brainstorming.

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The adjacent conference room is lined with couches, chairs and white boards to encourage open discussions and minimize distractions. One of Amit’s favorite attributes of Gravity’s company culture is passion–to teach, to learn and to grow. Creating an environment that encourages these kinds of interactions creates a more qualified, productive team and helps the company grow faster and stronger together.

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At the beginning of 2013, we added a Sales Department to the Gravity Team. And with this growth, came the office expansion to the second floor.

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You have just entered the Sales floor—Suite 206. The freshly waxed hard wood floors and brand new couches, establish a homey feel to this office. From the Account Managers and Business Developers to the Account Executives and Marketing Department, there is a room for everyone here on the sales floor. When the techies are able to escape their workshop, there are plenty of couches to go around.

Sales Team

Whether you come to work hard, admire our teamwork or escape your day job, the Gravity office accommodates everyone!

So grab your wet suit, long or short board, and meet us down at Station 26. Surf’s Up!

surfs up

Broadcast Interactive Media & Gravity Announce Partnership!

We’re excited to announce the BIMLocal Ad Optimization Platform is joining Gravity as a new partner adopting our industry-leading personalization technology throughout its network of 3,000 news and information sites. This partnership will allow BIMLocal, part of Broadcast Interactive Media, to provide personalization for its partners as a means to tailor site experiences to individual user interests.

Local, general news is a particularly competitive content vertical and BIMLocal’s new personalization capabilities create differentiation and improved reading experiences for users across their network. Gravity will enable each user to build an Interest Graph in order for BIM properties to determine which articles are most relevant to the user. Each time users visit a BIM site, they have personalized stories that interest them the most. BIMLocal’s network of sites includes local television and news sites across the U.S., as well as national business-to-business, entertainment, sports, lifestyle/travel, home/garden and mobile sites.

Welcome to the Gravity team, BIMLocal!

-Rob

 

Native Ads, Flamingos and Millennials

flamingos

It’s Advertising Week in NYC and continuing the trend this year, everyone is aflutter about Native Advertising. There is also specific focus on how to reach out to Millennials. Separately, I found myself reading a lot about something seemingly unrelated–Flamingos. And it got me thinking: Flamingos and Millennials are both an interesting bunch. If we parallel the two, there are some very relevant and important lessons we can extract about the value of Native Advertising.

Let’s start with flamingos. They live in huge colonies; sometimes 200,000 birds flock together in a single group. They’re a chatty bird and have high situational awareness. If one bird notices something, the rest of them will be squawking about it soon enough. Flamingos are very unique looking with long skinny legs, upside down beaks, and bright pink plumage. It’s one of nature’s most peculiar and unintentionally comedic species.

But why are their beaks upside down? Why the awkward and gangly legs? Turns out, because of the competitive environment, flamingos’ only feeding options happen to be in shallow, silted waters. In order to feed in that type of environment, they need the extra height from their legs to stand over the water and shuffle their flamingo paws to kick up silt. Their upside down beaks also make a lot of sense. They kink their necks downward like a backhoe to scoop up the silted water and filter out nutrients. The disadvantage of feeding like this is that they’re susceptible to predators, so they travel in groups, with some feeding and some on the lookout for danger. And they’re pink because of the minerals in the silt.

If you want to feed a flamingo, you need to find where they congregate, approach in a non-threatening manner, and seed the area with tasty flamingo treats. It’s the only way to go. You can’t get a single flamingo to just fly over to your residence and eat a steak at your house. They don’t want to leave their flamingo friends, or their flamingo food, just to visit a stranger (I may be wrong. Maybe you’re the flamingo whisperer. But you’re probably not). Let’s shift gears with the Flamingo in mind and think about an equally social, peculiar, fickle and beautiful species: The Millennial.

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Millennials may also have pink plumage and travel in highly communicative and situationally aware social groups. There is a big herd of them—the biggest generational cohort since the Baby Boomers. They happen to spend more money than any other generational consumer group. So how do you get them to eat your tasty Millennial treats?

First they need to know what you’re hawking. Marketers (and parents) lament that these Millennials have such fragmented attention, “…its difficult to communicate with them”. Those lamentations should (after denial, anger, bargaining, etc.) eventually yield to contemplation. This new generation is a product of their environment. The generation before created technology that increased the availability, speed and volume of information. Millennials just adapted to the environment.

So you created this beast, and now you need to feed it in order to survive. Our economy depends on it. But how? Consider the Flamingo.

First, you have to find where your audience naturally goes. Second, you need to approach with caution; the herd recognizes outsiders and will set to squawking. Next, you need to look at what they’re already eating and apply those flavors to your own feed that in their natural congregational spots.

You have to introduce your story in a place and form that mirrors your audience’s natural consumption pattern. That’s the definition of alignment and native advertising: showing you care about something that your audience does by showing up in the same place. What you introduce is even more important. Marketing always comes down to story telling. You need to tell a story that recognizes the location or spirit of the destination that attracted the audience in the first place. Finally, be cool—if your audience shows up for one thing, don’t yank their attention away from their story. That’s what predators do. And millennials will alert the crowd to predators and flee en masse.

Really though, you should take a thoughtful approach. When the audience takes a break from what they came to do at a site, invite them to check out your story as well. “Native advertising” is just a new way to describe advertising done well. The right story, for the right product, in the right place, at the right time.

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What Your Team Says About You

As an American male living in Los Angeles, I am legally obligated to feign enthusiasm when baseball is discussed.  Unfortunately, the limited extent of my knowledge on the matter can be easily summed up with my go-to baseball talking points:

  • Go Dodgers! (or another local team in the event that I move)
  • How about them Yankees? (I’m not sure exactly what this means but generally is received with thoughtful nods)
  • The Giants suck. (I have no idea if this is true, but they are the Dodgers’ rivals and so are subject to some level of local derision).

Based on the success of these points in faking my way through repeated baseball exchanges, rivalries seem to be core to understanding baseball and the motivations of its many devotees.  So let’s take a look at a couple of the biggest rivalries in the game: Red Sox versus Yankees, and Dodgers versus Giants.

For this study, interest in a specific baseball team was used to define a set of users across the Gravity personalization network. A total of 2.25 million Dodgers fans, 1.25 million Giants fans, 3.75 million Red Sox fans, and 3.5 million Yankees fans met our selection criteria. Their individual Interest Graphs had previously been created for the purposes of personalization of content; every click on content or advertising within the network is analyzed semantically and augments the nodes and edge weights for the engaged user.

When analyzing audiences, the individual graphs are coalesced into a single graph reflecting the aggregated interests and attachment levels for the entire set. This allows for a holistic view of the audience which can then be compared against another audience or the general population of hundreds of millions of users. In this way, we are able to establish what defines an audience and what makes them special.  For our baseball analysis, we’ve created Interest Graphs for each fan base, and have compared some of their more compelling attributes against each other and the global set.  Let’s check out some of the highlights.

  • Dodgers fans….
    • Tend to be the most focused on health and beauty of the four groups.
    • They are interested in technology generally, but less focused on specific websites or gadgets.
    • They are obsessed with the Giants, but also are more focused on the Yankees than the Red Sox are.
    • Dodgers fans are 80% more likely to love the sparkly Twilight vampires than an average Internet user.
  • Giants fans…
    • They love technology, and are quite specific about the brands and properties that are important to them.  There is a surprising level of interest in Yahoo comparable to that of Google, but Facebook reigns supreme.
    • Far outstrip the other teams and the general public in their love of ESPN.
    • Are primarily interested in hobbies that require participation rather than spectating.
    • Put the other teams to shame with their staggering love of Booze, Cannabis, and Cocaine.
    • They are 50% more likely to get all screamy about Justin Bieber than an average Internet user.
  • Red Sox fans…
    • Are the most socially minded of the four fan bases.
    • They have the greatest focus on local and cultural traditions (hurray for St. Paddy’s Day).
    • Edge out the competition in their love of beef and video gaming (a very different Saturday night than Giants fans apparently are having).
    • Are more than 5 times more likely to put on their Bronie gear and watch My Little Pony than an average Internet user.
  • Yankees fans…
    • Have an unusual Interest Graph composition.  While they have a relatively low number of topics in which they are highly interested, the volume of topics they cover is well above normal levels for a cohort of this size.  This is likely a function of the general appeal of the Yankees to fans that are more geographically and demographically diverse.
    • They lead the pack in their interest in exotic dancers and nude recreation.

Gooooooo, local sports franchise!

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Everyone Redesigns

Hoarding WindowWhen surfing the web I often get frustrated with how much clutter is on most websites these days.  When I worked on The Wall Street Journal site we struggled with what things we could remove. Somebody clicks on everything and as a news site it’s an industry standard to have a “read this next”, or a “Most Popular on Facebook”, or a “Trending on Twitter” so you just keep adding more and more. It’s starting to get a little silly though. You just can’t keep everything, it’s like living in your own filth.  So a new trend is emerging: clean and simple. Less is more. Great websites like Quartz and Mashable have already drastically simplified the notion of how to build an awesome news site.  Here are a few of the modules that are cluttering up websites these days:

The Newsreel

NYTimes.com Newsreel

This guy has the best placement of any recommendations on a website.  It sits above everything – even the content itself and when I worked at WSJ.com it was always the best performing module mainly because of it’s prime location.  Some websites will put it below the navigation, others place it right in the header next to the logo but in general it’s usually a horizontal list of a few headlines. It’s purpose is to target the people visiting from search engines or social media who don’t want to actually read that article they landed on.  Instead of leaving the site, the hope is they will see something better and stay within your site.  That’s why it’s at the top of an article – it’s trying to get people to click before they have even read what they came there for.

End of Post

Economist End of Post ModuleThe ying to the newsreel’s yang.  End of post modules are typically identical to the newsreel in design but sit immediately after the content before the comments section.  This is one of the best performing units in terms of click through rates (CTR) and product-wise it just makes sense.  Someone has just read your amazing piece of content and they like it so much they are starving for more so you hit them right where their eyeballs are with your best content and they keep eating pages.

Rail

WSJ.com Most Popular Rail ModuleAlmost all websites have some sort of left or right hand rail which is the narrower column of ads and other modules that sits alongside the content.  This usually turns in to a dumping ground for every module you can imagine – Like us on Facebook! Look at all our Tweets! Most Popular! Most Social! Ads! Related Headlines! More Ads! Rails are one of the worst cluttered areas on a website and putting headlines in it is usually an attempt to get people to click to another article if they abandon the current article they are reading.  Basically it’s the place good ideas go to die.

The Toaster

Forbes ToasterThese are nifty little animated pop-ups that only come up when you’ve scrolled towards the bottom of the article.  They are neat in that they don’t take up any additional space on the page until they are needed and since they are small they typically only have 1 story in it so it’s a very clear signal on what to read next.  The problem is they are usually used in conjunction with other modules.  My favorite is when it covers up another another recommendation module in the rail – like there isn’t enough places for me to click.

Algorithms

All of these modules have to be powered by something and just like there are lots of places to make recommendations, there are even more ways on how to make those recommendations:

  1. Latest – Just a raw feed of news sorted newest to oldest.  Blogs are notorious for organizing their whole site around this (Gravity Blog included).
  2. Most Popular – Whatever the metric is: most page views, most emailed this is meant to be the stories that have been the most popular across all the readers in the last few days.
  3. Most Social – Kind of like most popular but measured by social interactions like Facebook Likes or Twitter mentions.
  4. Editor’s Picks – Yes, editor’s are algorithms too.  And sometimes they can be a very good algorithm identifying stuff before it has become popular or finding the hidden gems in a site.  Editor’s can also give a stronger editorial voice to a site which may include showing stories that are important and not just popular.

Personalization – Both a Design and an Algorithm

Looking at the algorithms above you’d think that personalization is just another way to sort a list of headlines and power a newsreel, end of post, or any other module. And most companies doing recommendations have created easy copy-and-paste widgets that do just that (Gravity included). The problem is that no matter how great the personalization is, if you put up yet-another-module on a page that has 40 other headlines for someone to click it’s not going to do that much better.  You need to simplify.

Simple is Scary

It can be really hard to figure out what to remove.  Every module, if measured (you are measuring every module right?), has a direct contribution to page views and taking it away might mean less pages overall.  But in reality it’s not that black and white.  People won’t just stop clicking if a module is taken away – they will look somewhere else.  It just means the stakes are higher if there are less places for them to look.  And that’s where personalization shines.

Recommendations, both from a design and algorithm have always been one size fits all.  But now for the first time with personalization, you can have millions of versions of that same module.  The occasional visitor can see most popular, the social networkers can see what does well on Facebook or Twitter, the sideways Google users can see things related to their search term and there long-time engaged readers can see things based on all of the content they’ve already consumed (their interest graph).  Personalization is the best of all signals: editors, social, popularity and ultimately, interests.  The stakes might be higher when showing less recommendations but if the quality of those recommendations are better there is nothing to fear.  Redesign away.