Findory – Interview with CEO Greg Linden

The Search Lounge is very pleased to feature an exclusive interview with Greg Linden, founder and CEO of Findory. Findory is a unique service. It’s not quite a search engine, it’s not quite an RSS subscription tool, and it’s not quite a news aggregator site. So what is it then? I’ll quote Greg from an email he sent me: “…Findory isn’t a normal search engine. The primary focus of Findory isn’t search. The primary focus is discovery. The site learns your interests from the articles you read, searches thousands of sources for you, and surfaces interesting news articles and new sources. It’s like a newspaper built just for you. Quite a bit different than your average search engine.”

Findory shows you blog entries and news stories that match your reading patterns. And you do not have to enter a single bit of information about yourself. You do not even need to register to use the basic features. All you have to do is visit Findory’s homepage and either search or browse the listings. Then every time you click on a link to read it, Findory (I think) analyzes the page’s content and also checks to see who else clicked on that link and what else they have clicked on. Then when you return to the Findory.com homepage there will be links that Findory thinks you will be interested in. Although the back-end technology may not be crystal clear, it is actually very simple and powerful to use.

Greg also maintains a very good blog that I read constantly called Geeking with Greg. He writes about search, RSS, and other Internet topics. For several years Greg worked on personalization features for Amazon.com.

This interview was conducted exclusively via email.

Hi Greg, thanks for joining us at the Search Lounge. It is a pleasure to have you with us. Would you mind starting off by giving a bit of background information about how Findory fits into a user’s repertoire of online information tools? In other words, what are the benefit for those readers who have yet to try Findory?

Imagine the front page of a newspaper unique to you, emphasizing the news of the day you need to see. Findory is a personalized newspaper that learns your interests and builds a front page of news stories specifically for you.

Findory helps you read the news faster and more efficiently. Rather than skimming many sites to try to find the news of the day, Findory brings all the daily news to one spot, sorting news from thousands of worldwide sources. You will find articles you might otherwise miss while getting broad coverage of major news events.

Unlike news aggregators such as Google News, Findory is personalized to you, focusing your attention on the news you need. Unlike customized news sites such as My Yahoo, Findory requires no effort to use. You do not have to specify categories or keywords; Findory learns what news you want to see just from the articles you read.

Any plans to offer users a personalized interface to go with personalized listings? As a user, I would be particularly interested in changing the category ontology on the top page to promote subjects I am interested in.

It’s a great suggestion. We have built Findory to be super easy to use. No effort. No registration. Just read news and the front page gets better and better.

But some of our readers are interested in customizing the Findory front page. We will be launching more customization features over time, but our site will always remain focused on being easy to use, no effort required.

Would you mind shedding some light on whether Findory crawls and indexes its own search results, or whether they are pulled from other engines? And as a follow-up, is the search algorithm built in-house?

Findory has its own crawl of thousands of news sources and weblogs.

Our personalization technology was designed and developed by Findory. The personalization engine and news and weblog search engines were built in-house. The web search engine personalizes Google web search results.

When I search on Findory I have the option to search news, blogs, or the web. There does not seem to be an option to search a combination of those sources. As a user, I am less concerned about which source bucket the information comes from, than I am about the information itself. Any chance you might offer users an advanced search option to handle that? And how about advanced syntax?

It’s a great suggestion. We’ve designed our search engine to be simple, fast, and easy to use. So, while it is true that there are no advanced search options, the news, weblog, and web searches are quite unusual in that they are all personalized. Different users doing the same search on our site will see different search results, all depending on their history and their interests.

As an outsider looking in, and a user, my impression is that when I click on a link, Findory analyzes the keyword content of the site and looks for other sites with overlapping terms. Findory also does something like Amazon’s “Customers with similar searches also purchased…” functionality, except in this case it is “Other users who read this article also read…” I realize you are not able to give away the secrets of your technology, but what can you share with us about it?

At a high level, we look at what other readers like you are reading to recommend news stories to you. It’s a community. Imagine if friends of yours using Findory were constantly recommending articles to you. Now imagine that those friends are found automatically for you. That’s how Findory works.

How does Findory evaluate its personalized listings and search results in order to improve? In other words, is there any kind of testing or evaluation to determine the relevancy of the listings shown to users?

Great question. We’re constantly testing refinements to our algorithm and trying to improve on it. As we get more and more users of Findory, the quality of our recommendations get better and better. Findory builds on the strength of its community.

What subjects is Findory particularly good at surfacing for users? Any areas that need improvement?

The quality doesn’t seem to vary by subject, so I’m not sure this is a real issue for us. One area where we are seeking to improve is our weblog coverage. We have thousands of weblogs in our database, but that represents just a small fraction of the weblog content out there. We are working aggressively to extend our crawl.

Sometimes I want to be able to give feedback to the Findory engine when a site is not relevant. For example, I searched for San Francisco because as a San Franciscan I thought I would help Findory by focusing it on my location. However, the next time I used Findory there was an article about the San Francisco 49ers firing their head coach. And the next time I went back the lead article was about the NFL. In that case, Findory was close with the 49ers article, but in the end it was not relevant because I am not a football fan. Any plans to offer this kind of feedback loop?

It’s a great idea. We’re considering customization features such as being able to rate articles or sources or being able to say “not interested” on articles. We are looking at ways to do this that don’t interfere with the main purpose of Findory, reading news.

Do you see a way for regular search engines to integrate your technology?

Absolutely. Our technology is designed to be highly scalable. Despite our complicated personalization, the online portion of our processing only takes a tens of milliseconds. We want Findory’s personalization to be helping millions of readers find the information they need.

Blog searching by companies like Findory, Daypop, and Technorati, to name just a few, has become one of the hot search topics these days. How do you see blog searching fitting into the overall search engine industry in the next year or two? What about real-time indexing?

The real issue with weblogs is finding good content. Weblogs are self-published. No publisher means no filter. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because it opens the floodgates for so much new content. It’s bad because those filters are sometimes useful, helping readers differentiate useful from useless. This problem will only get worse and worse as the blogging phenomenon accelerates.

Findory is all about relevance. In a sea of information, how do you surface what people need? Current web and weblog search engines all use the same relevance rank for all searchers, but not everyone has the same definition of relevance. Findory learns your interests — what is relevant for you — and surfaces that content.

Some have said 2005 will be the year search becomes personal. Findory has already taken the first steps.

I have yet to see a sponsored result or any banner ad on Findory. Would you mind commenting about Findory’s business model?

Findory currently has no advertising. We have designed a personalized advertising engine that targets based on reader’s interests, much like Google AdWords but more targeted. But, readers aren’t huge fans of advertising. At this point, we prefer to work on features our readers want. When we need to launch advertising to support our website, we’ll be ready.

Lastly, what’s your favorite drink?

Favorite drink? It’d have to be coffee. Caffeine is what keeps us geeks going.

Thanks Greg. Are there any other comments you’d like to add?

Thanks, Chris! Glad to hear you’re enjoying Findory!

About Chris

I'm Chris and I've worked in the search engine industry since the late '90s.

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