Mapping News

November 19, 2007

By Erica Naone

A new startup called YourStreet is bringing hyper-local information to its users by collecting news stories and placing them on its map-based interface, down to the nearest street corner. While there have been many companies that combine information and maps, YourStreet is novel in its focus on classifying news by location.

When a user opens the site, it detects her location and shows a map of that area, stuck with pins that represent the locations of news stories, user-generated content called conversations, and people who have added themselves to the map. The user can zoom in or out of the map or look at another location by entering a place name or zip code into a search bar. CEO and founder James Nicholson says that what sets YourStreet apart is its extensive news service: the site collects 30,000 to 40,000 articles a day from more than 10,000 RSS feeds, mostly from community newspapers and blogs. “We’re not relying on the users to provide us with articles,” Nicholson says. The stories featured on the site aren’t of a specific type, and users will find the locations of murders marked alongside the locations of upcoming music shows. Stories featured on the site are teasers, and, if a user clicks to read further, she will be directed back to the source of the information.

Nicholson says that he hopes the broad base of news will provide a foundation upon which the site’s community can be built. The site includes social-networking features, such as the ability to log in, meet neighbors, start conversations, and leave comments to annotate stories. “The basic goal behind YourStreet is to connect you to the information that’s most important to you,” Nicholson says.

The site’s main technological advance lies in its ability to mine geographical information from news stories. Using natural-language-processing algorithms developed in-house, as well as supplementary algorithms provided by the company MetaCarta, the site searches the text of regular news stories for clues about associated locations. The system searches particularly for entities within cities such as hospitals, schools, and sports stadiums, Nicholson says, relying on databases of entities created by the U.S. Geological Survey. YourStreet is currently working on some improvements to the system’s ability to recognize nicknames; for example, it should be able to interpret “GG Bridge,” as many bloggers refer to it, as the Golden Gate Bridge.

Other companies have designed similar but contrasting services. Outside.in, for example, features similar hyper-local news features, but it relies much more on human participation than YourStreet does. Participating bloggers or users add tags to stories to place them in the correct locations, and Outside.in employs a small team of part-time employees to match articles to places by hand. Launched about a year ago, the Outside.in interface is much more focused on information than on maps. According to John Geraci, one of the company’s founders, these features are all purposeful. “Making the map the first thing a user sees is a mistake a lot of mapping sites make,” he says, adding that he thinks the user is only interested in a map once information has drawn her in. Geraci says that Outside.in is built to rely heavily on human intervention, rather than on natural-language search algorithms, because, in his opinion, the algorithms don’t work well enough at this phase, and, with this type of service, stories are only useful if mapped accurately. “When you’re talking about location, there’s a low tolerance for noise,” Geraci says. “We believe you need people, that you always need that discernment.”

The entries for the Boston neighborhood known as Union Square provide some insight into the challenges faced by both YourStreet and Outside.in. YourStreet’s algorithms did filter out all the stories about the famous Union Squares in New York and San Francisco. But there was a story about the Union Square in Somerville, a city located very close to Boston. Outside.in, on the other hand, included only posts that were relevant to Union Square in Boston, but it didn’t provide as broad a range of fresh material as YourStreet did.

Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Citizen Media, says that companies are still figuring out how to provide hyper-local news properly. “YourStreet’s approach of combining aggregation with content creation seems promising,” he says. However, he notes that YourStreet faces heavy competition from other geographically focused sites, which run the gamut from Google Earth, to the do-it-yourself atlas site Platial, to the local-news service Topix.

Nicholson says that YourStreet will add a few features in the near future. In about a month, the site will launch an algorithm that compiles statistics on which stories are more interesting to users and brings those stories to the top. The site will also launch a widget that bloggers can use to paste information from YourStreet onto their sites. More far-off plans include the launch of a tool kit that developers can use to integrate with YourStreet, and a system that would allow users to classify stories by subject matter. The company plans to make money through targeted advertising.

Source:Technology Review


Eight Great, Simple Web Services for your Business

November 14, 2007

New services make it easy to customize the best of the Web’s content to your heart’s delight, or to meet the needs of your business.

You may not feel the urge to microblog your every thought using Twitter, and not every news story that tops the list at Digg.com adds value to your life. Fortunately, there are enough great Web innovations to please everybody. Free services from Google and other companies large and small mix and mash nicely, allowing you to get your business organized, share and synchronize calendars, or create special-purpose maps. You don’t even have to know what an API is (I’ll tell you anyway) or how to write JavaScript or XML (though you may want to learn). Naturally, Google isn’t the only game on the new Web–our favorite mashable services let you create custom news feeds, widgets, and other tools for applications, limited only by your imagination.

Mark Your Map With Google My Maps…

In just minutes you can add maps to your Web site that highlight all of your company’s locations, or create a map that shows your favorite roadside diners and cheap gas stations. Google Maps’ application programming interface (API) allows anyone to link text and images to any Google Maps location, but you can do the same thing without writing code or knowing anything about the API. Visit Google Maps, select the My Maps tab, and click Create new map. Navigate to the spot you want to annotate (zoom in if necessary), and click the blue "placemark" button to add a marker; drag the marker to set its location. Right-click the marker to change its title or enter a description. To insert a photo, choose Rich text, click the Insert Image icon on the far right, paste the image’s URL into the dialog box, and click Save. Choose Link to this page at the right of the Google Maps page to copy your map’s URL for sharing via e-mail….

Then Mash It Up With Other Content

Not content to limit your creativity to map markers, Google also lets you easily merge a select number of other people’s Google Map mashups–in the form of widget-like maplets–with your custom maps. To add a maplet, click one of the content items listed below your personal maps, such as GasBuddy.com‘s database of local gas prices, or Panoramio‘s collection of geolocated photos. Or click Add content to choose one of the dozens of other maplets available. By combining maplets with placemarks, you can create and share a map of your favorite locations along a particular route, annotate each with your own photos and text, and include other people’s photos too, as well as the cheapest gas along the way, for example. Or you might build a map of your burg that plots your most frequently visited destinations along various transit and bike routes. As Google adds more maplets, this feature will only become more useful.

Create a RSS

Really Simple Syndication, or RSS, is a great way to get your Web content read. Because nearly all browsers, e-mail programs, Web portals, and search engines support RSS, you can push your site’s offerings to readers who are interested in the subjects you cover.

An RSS feed is a text file that lists your site’s title and individual articles, along with the URLs. For simple sites, you could create this file by hand using a text editor and the RSS 2.0 specification. The RSS Board’s Web site provides an RSS playground where you can plug in feed values and variables to test your feed.

However, it’s much easier to use one of the many automatic RSS feed generators that "scrape" your site’s HTML tags for likely feed items and generate an XML file. Of the dozens of such services (most of which are free), start with FeedYes, which not only scrapes sites for feed content automatically but also helps you construct feeds manually. Once your feed is done, check it for errors at Feed Validator or use the RSS Board’s validator. When it’s ready, submit it for syndication with FeedBurner‘s free service. And while you’re at the FeedBurner site, consider letting the Google-owned service monetize your feed via Google’s AdSense program.

Filter Feeds Through Yahoo’s Pipes

News feeds help you stay current, but they’re time-consuming to read. If you’re looking for a needle in the RSS haystack, Yahoo’s powerful and free Pipes construction set enables you to pour feeds through dozens of prefabricated logic modules that search, modify, or analyze them and then pump the result through other modules and services to output the fine-tuned result. Popular pipes cough up the YouTube videos of the top ten songs on iTunes, deliver Flickr photos related to stories in the New York Times, and display the favorite photos of your Flickr contacts.

Building your own feed is a drag-and-drop affair. Click the Documentation link on the home page to reach a tutorial, online help, and sample pipes that show you how to mix and match modules.

To build a pipe, use your Yahoo ID to sign in at the Pipes home page, and click Create a pipe to open the Pipes editor. Select a module from the ‘User inputs’ or ‘Sources’ categories (such as Fetch Feed to add an RSS feed) on the left side of the editing screen, and drag it onto your page. Next, pick a module from ‘Operators’, ‘String’, or another data-manipulation category and drag it onto the page. Enter the necessary filtering information. Next, drag from the "port" on the bottom of the box to connect the output of the first module to the input of the second, and the output of the second to the input of the Pipe Output module at the bottom of the page.

When you’re done, click Save, and then Run Pipe to use your finished pipe. Finally, click Publish to share your pipe with the world. Depending on which modules you connected, your pipe might actually do something useful, such as find feeds on an arcane subject, though fine-tuning the output can be a lengthy process. By connecting several PCWorld.com news feeds to the ‘For Each: Replace’ module (which contains the Flickr source module), I built a pipe that illustrates what many of the products reported on look like, along with some occasionally unexpected results. I even managed to filter out duplicate images by introducing the ‘Unique’ module. The really ingenious pipes are much more complex, however.

Hitch Your Domain to Google Apps

Owning and operating a Web domain–not to mention setting up the e-mail servers, user accounts, and hosting–used to be a pricey affair. Not any longer.

If you already own a domain through another registrar, you can use it with Google Apps, which allows you to configure Gmail as the mail server for your domain, as well as to set up subdomains for use with other services, such as Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Calendar, and Page Creator. Go to the Google Apps page, click Get Started, choose Sign Up under Standard Edition, and either enter your existing domain name or purchase an available one for $10 a year through the registrar GoDaddy. Google Apps will then prompt you to create an administrator account for the new domain–and that’s it. You’ll see your Google Apps Dashboard page, where you create additional user accounts (up to 200) for your coworkers, family members, or other domain denizens, and configure chat, calendar sharing, and document settings, among other options. It doesn’t provide everything you need to get your organization online, but it is an excellent (and free) foundation for your group’s Web activities.

Sync Your Local Calendar With Google’s

Where would I be without my online calendar? My whole life is in there. Unfortunately, I’m often not in front of my computer when an appointment alarm goes off. That’s why Google Calendar and its SMS notifications are handy. I also like having my calendar available online so that family and collaborators can check my availability. If you work the same way, you can keep your local and Web calendars synchronized by using one of two tools. If you use Mozilla Thunderbird and its Lightning calendar extension, Provider for Google Calendar lets you create a new calendar in Lightning/Thunderbird that syncs with an existing Google Calendar. Outlook users should try Calgoo Software’s $25-per-year Calgoo Apps, which not only allow you to synchronize your Outlook and Google calendars and contacts but also give you access to your Google Calendar offline.

Pimp Your Facebook

Facebook is a handy, general-purpose place to connect with coworkers, neighbors, and friends, but its bio, photo, and messaging features are bare-bones. Fortunately, the service’s applications feature allows you to install widget-like programs into your profile that ramp up your ability to link with other Facebookers, and even stay productive while hobnobbing. To browse Facebook’s gallery of more than 1500 applications, click Applications, and then Browse More Applications. Select For Facebook at the right to see a more manageable list of categories, and skip the more frivolous ones. Some of my favorites include My Flickr, which displays your Flickr photos; Zoho Online Office, a link to your free Zoho office-suite account; and the My Company’s Hiring widget from LinkedIn.

Get Stylish

Bored with the look of your favorite sites? If you use Mozilla’s Firefox, you can spice things up, or chill them out, by installing the Stylish extension and downloading predesigned styles for individual sites and the browser itself. To install the extension, choose Tools, Add-ons, Get extensions. Search for Stylish at the Firefox Add-ons site. When you find it, click its link, and then the big, green Install Now button. Stylish will run the next time you launch Firefox, but it won’t do anything until you download and install styles from Userstyles.org. You can turn Google’s bright white background a cool dark blue, improve Wikipedia’s readability, or change the look of Facebook, Gmail, YouTube, and other sites. You’ll also find Stylish styles that alter the interfaces of Firefox and Thunderbird.

Make Your Own Widget

Nothing substitutes for programming expertise when it comes to crafting the handy mini-programs that run on your iGoogle page or through Yahoo’s Widgets. You’ll find excellent XML and JavaScript tutorials online, and in print at your local bookstore. Making a simple Google gadget, however, takes no programming skills at all.

Log in to iGoogle and click Create your own gadget at the bottom of the page. Pick one of the seven (as we went to press) gadget templates, and click its Get started link. After customizing it with online content, text, and other options, click Create Gadget. Google adds the gadget to your iGoogle page and offers options for sharing it. The WyaWorks Widget Creator service lets you create and share a database widget (think contacts or customer service) that works with iGoogle, Netvibes, and Pageflakes. Yahoo Widget builders can get help with XML widget coding via Harry Whitfield’s Widget Maker.

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RightNow, Demandware Mash Up CRM, E-Commerce

October 30, 2007

RightNow and Demandware have developed a new mash-up that integrates the former’s CRM and customer service offerings with the latter’s e-commerce suite.

The result is an application that incorporates product content management and promotion with such interaction functionality as click-to-chat, while marrying order-tracking and management functions to the agent desktop.

Specifically, the new application connects RightNow’s service, marketing and sales applications with Demandware’s Web platform and e-commerce services.

RightNow’s contributions to the mash-up are its inbound and outbound sales and service desktop, multichannel customer service, marketing communications and customer feedback capabilities.

Demandware is providing its online storefront, site search, guided navigation, product catalog and promotions, Web development environment, user profiles and online content.

Suite Approach

On one hand, this mash-up can be viewed as a shortcut to bringing a suite application to market, as it eliminates much of the work involved in developing one from the ground up.

However, it is a mistake to assume that RightNow or Demandware have joined forces in such a manner strictly for competitive reasons, Yankee Group analyst Sheryl Kingstone told CRM Buyer — specifically with a vendor like NetSuite, the top online suite provider offering deep CRM functionality.

“RightNow rarely goes up against NetSuite in deals,” Kingstone said. “Also, RightNow’s target audience is larger than NetSuite’s.”

Rather, the larger point behind the mash-up is that it is emblematic of RightNow’s MO of automating integration around the customer experience.

The territory that Demandware owns — namely the order management process — is a critical integration point that RightNow has thus far not touched.

“Unfortunately, it is only offering this integration for the Demandware customer base,” Kingstone said.

Integrating the Online Channel

Later this year, the two companies plan to cross-sell and upsell the joint application to their respective installed bases, Scott Todaro, director of product and industry marketing at Demandware, told CRM Buyer. There is little overlap among the two firms’ clients.

There are no concrete plans, however, to embed the joint functionality in future releases of the respective applications. It may be, though, that the mash-up is enough to satisfy users’ needs — at least in the immediate term.

The driver behind the joint application is the growing necessity of integrating the online channel into back-office functions, explained David Hayden, director of product strategy for RightNow. That’s especially relevant as more companies rip out their legacy systems and replace them with SOA (service-oriented architecture)-based applications.

Vendors and their customers alike, Hayden told CRM Buyer, “are really looking to connect the various business units around solid, go-to-market strategies.”

Kingstone echoed that prediction — at least in terms of the mash-up service providing a faster time-to-market vehicle.

“The future of software will focus on mash-ups like these,” she said. “At bottom, they are all about breaking down the barrier posed by integration.”

Source:


YourStreet Relaunches; White Label & Widgets On the Way

October 30, 2007

By Kristen Nicole

YourStreets found it wasn’t working out as a real estate resource for localized content, so it’s switched gears to become an aggregator of local data based on individual neighborhoods. This makes sense on several levels, but it’s a difficult task to undertake, and must be executed well for optimal results.

As it’s become a human-influenced search engine to some extent, it has the job of bringing all the relevant data, based on your neighborhood, to the forefront of your results. As a user you can submit your own content, and view other users (neighbors) that are nearby.

This is all displayed on a map as well, offering you a bit more context and an interactive way at which to delve for more information. Additionally, users can converse on various local topics, and these conversations (discussions) will appear along with your search results and on the map as well.

I really like this concept of incorporating several aspects of local life into an aggregated resource, which is rather similar (though less intrusive) that what we’ve seen from Fat Door. So far, the biggest thing missing from YourStreet’s new aggregated view is filtering options to better scour through the data that’s been offered up.

Checking on the news around Chicago, I see a lot of content for sports, but I’d rather see what’s going on with restaurants within walking distance of my house. As it stands right now, there are no good filtering options that I can use to weed out the restaurant data from the rest.

Additionally, YourStreet has some big plans for its new service, which includes a white label solution. To this end, YourStreet will offer selected media partners, like newspapers, to offer a custom YourStreet map to show local news stories. I think extending this to support user-generated content could be a valuable offering to participating media companies as well.

There will also be a widget for you to put a neighborhood map on your blog, website or social networking profile. This embedded map will be constantly updated for new, incoming content. Both the white label solution and the widget offerings will be released early next year.

Source:Mashable.com


Will mashups ever be mass market?

October 26, 2007

By Jack Schofield

 

When Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer spoke at last week’s prestigious Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco, he announced a public beta test version of Popfly to try to impress the crowd. Because it’s based on Silverlight, Microsoft’s alternative to Adobe Flash, it can certainly do some nice visual tricks. Its practical value is, of course, another matter.

Popfly is an online system where anybody can create a graphical web page, a mashup or a Windows Vista Sidebar gadget by “drag and drop” programming.

The term “mashup” comes from the music business where it is used for mixes made from two or more different songs. In web 2.0 terms, it means combining data from two or more sources. One of the best known mashups takes government crime figures for Chicago and plots them on a Google map of Chicago.

When Yahoo! launched a beta test site for creating mashups in February, it had the idea of streams of data being changed and combined: the result was Yahoo! Pipes. Popfly uses a different kind of imagery that’s much more like object-oriented programming. Everything comes in a red box or block, and you create your mashup by linking red blocks together.

The Popfly toolbox already contains dozens of blocks. Look under Display, for example, and there are blocks such as Bar graph, Carousel, Chat bubbles, Page Turner, Photosphere and Slideshow.

Other blocks offer streams of data, including RSS feeds of news reports, Twitter and Upcoming. There are also blocks such as Combine, Filter, Sort and Timer so you can do things with data along the way. If you can’t find the sort of block you want, you can create one.

Each block contains lines of computer code, so when you link them together, you are actually writing a program. What’s cool is that it doesn’t feel like it.

Popfly has lots of nice visual effects, but I found some things didn’t do what I expected, and it wasn’t always easy to see why.

For example, I did an extremely simple mashup to fish 100 random Paris Hilton pictures from a search engine, and display them in a mini-album on my Facebook profile page. Actually it showed only 20 images, and it didn’t display them on Facebook: it just put a link to the album on Popfly. It was easier to post it to a blog: even I can manage a one-line copy-and-paste operation!

There are several sites doing the same sort of thing as Pipes and Popfly, and Intel has just unveiled MashMaker, promising “Mashups for the Masses”. Google also has the Google Mashup Editor, which is only suitable for programmers. No doubt there will be many more.

Microsoft’s mantra is “developers, developers, developers,” and naturally it wants to make programming accessible to people with no programming skills.

Given enough pre-created blocks, I can imagine lots of people connecting two blocks, or even a few, if it does something they really need. But a mass market? I don’t think so!

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