Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Israel's Outbrain gives bloggers their due

By David Shamah -June 03, 2008

According to Yaron Galai, blogging is where information on the Net is going. If newspapers and other news outlets were once the guardians of what made news, today bloggers are increasingly setting the pace.
That's why Israeli-American start-up Outbrain was set up. The two-year-old company, which has R&D offices in Netanya, and is headquartered in New York, has developed a simple widget rating system for blog entries, to try to encourage good bloggers to keep on reporting. "It's important to reward the bloggers who do a good job," Galai, co-founder and CEO of Outbrain, tells ISRAEL21c. "Plus, users get good leads on blogs and posts that they might be interested in too."
Until Outbrain, the only indication bloggers had that people were reading their posts was in the comments left behind by visitors to their pages. Bloggers with their own domain and website, could rely on the statistics provided by Google or Alexa on page popularity, or on their own site's visitor statistics. But bloggers posting articles on a site like blogger.com, only have comments to rely on - and not many readers can be bothered to take the time to write.
Outbrain's system makes it easy for readers to rate blogs, indicating their satisfaction with the ideas or presentation they've just read. Bloggers in the Outbrain network post a widget (five yellow stars) on each post they want readers to rate. Readers click on the appropriate star to rate how much they liked the content (five for "excellent," four for "good," one for "bad," etc.), and the rating is immediately averaged into the overall score. So, if 10 people read a post and clicked on four or five stars, the post would get a top rating - meaning that prospective readers will probably find that the information isn't a waste of their time. For the blogger himself, it gives a chance to find out what the readers are interested in, so he can focus on similar subjects in future.
Outbrain also makes recommendations to readers of other posts on other sites that they might find useful as well - so readers get exposed to new blogs they didn't know about before, saving them surfing time and getting them to the information they're interested in fast. Each Outbrain rating made by a blog post reader generates an anonymous cookie (Outbrain does not track user behavior outside the ratings, and there is no registration required to rate posts), which the Outbrain database collects and collates, giving back recommendations to readers on related issues or topics. "It's sort of what you find at sites like Amazon or Netflix, which allow you to rate products and movies, and tell you what other people who were interested in the same item were looking at, or interested in," Galai explains.
Outbrain aims to do for blogging, what the Amazon rating and recommendation system does for customers - save them time and money by helping them focus their search. Readers just hover their mouse over the appropriate rating star to express their opinion - and the related URLs are automatically generated for them. This enables users to far more easily spread the news about posts and blogs, than they would be able to by just commenting on sites or sending out e-mail messages to friends.
Privately held Outbrain, which currently employs about a dozen people, is so convinced that blogging is the way forward, that is has no plans to develop similar services for traditional news sites, despite the fact that blogs are currently a lot less profitable than news sites.

Investors are convinced too; in February, the company announced the closing a $5 million A-round investment led by Gemini Israel Funds, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Glen Rock Israel. Outbrain widgets are on hundreds of site already, and Galai, who is already a veteran of Web 2.0 (he was co-founder of online ad network Quigo, now owned by AOL), and co-founder Ori Lahav - former head of R&D at shopping.com, are dedicated to helping build blogger traffic - by helping blog readers spread the word about interesting posts they've seen.
It's a blogger's world, and Outbrain plans to give it its due. In fact, the Outbrain site's press ("buzz") page has not one link to articles on news sites about the company - only to articles or posts written by bloggers. "It's true that bloggers aren't making a lot of money right now," Galai says. "But they're the ones generating the most interesting and important information nowadays," and Outbrain intends to get in on the ground floor, he says. The days of the "news gatekeeper" are gone - and Outbrain can help blog readers get out the news they believe really counts. (Source)

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