Apr 11 2008

Know what you don’t know

[see the bottom of this post for an invite code to a new service that helps solve the problem I’m describing here]

It’s probably passe to say that we live in an information economy.  It’s also probably not correct anymore because really we live in an information NOW economy.  Staying on top of the topics that are important to you and your company has never been more important.  And with the explosion of media sources (particularly on-line) this has never been more of a challenge. 

Back in the day, large companies would outsource the function of knowing what was said of them and their competitors to various "clipping services", so named because they would line up the major new outlets of the day (mostly the large daily newspapers and national magazines) and literally clip out the stores that were of interest to their clients with scissors.  Every week they’d compile these clippings into a briefing and ship it off to their client.  These services weren’t very efficient and they were extremely expensive, but there was little other choice.  While these services have evolved in more recent years to incorporate technology, they’re still expensive and for the most part involve some 3rd party culling through the data to sort for relevance. 

Google Alerts is the most notable exception here – they’ve developed a service that in theory will let you know when any particular key word (really any search string) is crawled by Google spiders.  However in my experience Google Alerts quickly falls down. For starters, I get relatively few hits across my keywords and most of the hits I get are repeat ones (I can’t understand this at all – with probably 60 keywords I get almost no alerts and while I share keywords with some of my colleagues I rarely am sent the same hits that they are). I have other friends with the opposite problem with Alerts – their inbox is flooded with responses.  In some cases so much so that they had to turn the service off completely.  There’s also no good way to aggregate these alerts into any kind of trend data or manipulate them, group them, etc. 

Enter Filtrbox.  Filtrbox was one of last year’s TechStars companies and the the one with which I worked most closely (after the summer TechStars program I participated in their angel financing round).  They’ve developed a system that if you had to describe it in a single sentence is "Google Alerts on steroids".  That said, it’s almost unfair to compare the two as Google Alerts just isn’t designed to provide users with the accuracy, level of coverage, ability to tune and provide feedback to alert terms and the overall representation of data that Filtrbox provides – even now in the relatively early version of the Filtrbox platform.  Filtrbox allows me to set up a series of "filtrs" that contain various keywords so that I can organize the things I’m looking to track.  Every morning I get a "daily briefing" email that lists all the hits from the last 24 hours and online I can use their dashboard to see up-to-date hits in list and graphical form, manipulate the data, adjust the sensitivity of the report (so I see fewer, but more directly relevant hits) and tune the system by providing it feedback on the information it provides me.  Below is a snapshot of their dashboard to give you a sense of what I see every day (in true Web 2.0 fashion, everything in the image below will give me more information as I mouse over it and I can adjust the data I’m seeing on the fly by checking and unchecking keywords or entire filtr groups or adjusting the sensitivity (the slider in the top center of the page).


The service is in private beta, but they’ve given me an invite code that I can use to let people try the system out.  For smaller users, the service will be free (you’re limited in the number of keywords you can use and by the length article history).  For larger users there will be paid "pro service" ($20/month) and for teams of users a group account that enables some additional sharing and other group related functions (for $100/month for the team).  You can sign up for the beta at https://www.filtrbox.com/signup.php?code=foundry.  If I’ve run out of invites, drop me a line and I’ll try to make more available.