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  If I’ve run out of invites, drop me a line and I’ll try to make more available. 

  • Dan Burcaw

    I like it. I have seen a need for something like this for a while. The ability to “tune” the results that arrive in your morning brief is great– though I hope users don't have to go through too many iterations of “tuning” before they get the results they are really looking for.

    • sethlevine

      thanks dan. tuning definitely takes a little effort, but is worthwhile. with any service like this you have to be willing to put up with a certain amount of noise (especially if some of your search terms are broad – less so if you've got a list of uniquely named companies)…

      • Dan Burcaw

        Seth, you are absolutely correct. Of course, tuning goes both ways. The user experience needs to encourage usage that prevents a lengthly (and burdensome to the user and thus active usage) trial-and-error cycle.

        It might be interesting if they provided a way for users to (optionally) “seed” a URL or text clipping that is highly relevant to what results they hope to receive in an on-going fashion.

        I love the idea of a world that downplays keywords. šŸ™‚
        (one reason I hope PowerSet has moderate success)

        A few suggestions, otherwise I think they really have something fantastic that I will no doubt be using (I hate search). Thanks!

  • Dan Burcaw

    Oh, and by the way. How great would it be if they could deliver the morning briefing over Socialthing! or Twitter?

    Of course, their pitch is all about “business intelligence” so they would have to interact with a social stream in a way that ensures the results are only shared with the intended audience.

    • sethlevine

      you CAN get your results delivered via RSS so you can read them where you want (you can do this on a per filtr basis if you'd like). the interesting socialthing integration to me would be to autogenerate a filtr with new about your top friends – that'd be pretty neat!

      • Dan Burcaw

        Absolutely. They need to give users many ways to receive their results. RSS is great, but only one tool in the toolbox. For example, I might want to receive super important Filtr feeds via Instant Message if the results are needed in quick-reaction type setting.

        FiltrBook might want to think about providing an open API architecture that allows developers to plugin a variety of different “delivery modes” such as they ones you and I have discussed.

        • sethlevine

          Dan – It's like you're reading from their pitch! This type of selective content delivery (by filtr or even by score) is exactly where they are headed.

  • Aziz Grieser

    Seth, thanks for the beta access. FiltrBox is a great concept and interface so far, but like you, my results seemed way too thin, considering the search was “Multiplayer games”, and I tried applying only a few different ubiquitous filters, like “casual” or “popular”.

    Like i said, the interface is very good, and so is the ease of setting up a filter. I just know that there are a lot more new items being posted throughout the web with related taxonomy. Maybe I used the service wrong, but I got 3 results on my best effort. I will also note that say they are busy grabbing related stuff and I should come back in an hour.

    I will definitely keep an eye out, because this could definitely help me.

    • sethlevine

      aziz – i'd encourage you to contact the company directly ( to walk through your challenge. some of it may be the way the system pulls data as you generate keywords (which is a subset of the data set they search each day – too much to parce quickly as you go through the set-up process). i'm getting very solid results and regularly (daily) come across articles that i without question would have missed had i not been using the service.

      • Aziz Grieser

        I'm definitely going to give it another shot. Didn't have much time the other day. Thanks for the contact info.

  • Rob

    Be warned…filtrbox is highly addictive. once you start getting your daily filtrbox email, you won't be able to start your day without it.

    • sethlevine

      thanks rob – the filtrbox guys feel the same way!

  • Hi Seth any chance of a new invite code? the link you gave in your post no longer works

    • sethlevine

      robin – filtrbox added a bunch of new invites to that code, so you should be all set. let me know what you think of the product. enjoy!