Gary Griffiths | Our Blog
Posted by Gary Griffiths on Tue, Jan 14, 2014 @ 12:56 PM Tweet
I know that all good things must come to an end and I’ve had an incredible ride. I just want to end it on the right note. — Alonzo Mourning on his retirement
Today we’re shutting down Trapit’s free personalized content discovery apps. It’s been an incredible ride for us too, Alonzo. When Hank and I launched our free web app nearly three years ago, we really didn’t know what to expect. And that was the point. Sure, we had a bucket full of patents from SRI, and we’d spent over a year taking code and concepts intended for very targeted US Government Intelligent work and trying to turn it into a much more general –infinitely more scalable – tool. A tool that could “trap” any topic and, from an individual user’s feedback, produce a stream of personalized, relevant content for each user. This was at a time when crowd sourcing was red hot and “collaborative filtering” – the technique of delivering content to you based on popular stories that others “like you” have selected – was ubiquitous. But we challenged this belief – our mantra: “You are not the crowd.” We are all individuals with our own beliefs, tastes, and principles. A popular story is not necessarily relevant to you. So that was our theory – but we really didn’t know if we could pull it off. The challenges were daunting. Daunting from a technology standpoint: could our algorithms – just strings of binary code – really get to know each user as an individual, and deliver to them content on any topic that was relevant to them? As an example, we had about 100,000 people interested in “big data.” So 100,000 people got 100,000 different streams of information on this topic. Sure, there was overlap, but the SGI engineer interested in Hadoop, was seeing a very different “trap” than the Rackspace engineer who wanted to stay current on the latest developments in cloud infrastructure. Combine this with our insistence that Trapit would function in real time, and that new, original content would be delivered to our users within minutes of the publication time. So scale was a huge concern for us. Consider 1M users, each with an average of ten traps. Could we really deliver 10M personalized streams of information – in real time? And could we really trap any topic – from the very specific, like “Alonzo Mourning” – to vague concepts, like “digital culture,” “future TV,” or “relationship advice?” And could we truly boil down the web to a large – but finite – base of sources that produced original, high-quality content?
The point is, these were questions that could not be answered in theory – we needed real people, and lots of them, to try it. And our initial results were, quite frankly, pretty awful. Technology and techniques that looked good in sterile lab conditions were markedly different when exposed to the vagaries of the raucous, wild web. Minimizing duplication, disambiguation, outsmarting SEO, finding the right image in seas of clutter – all these and hundreds more were problems that we encountered as we made incremental improvements to our app as we gradually increased our user base from tens to millions.
But vetting the technology was not the only reason for launching a broad-based consumer app. Hank and I believed from the start that the real value of Trapit would be unlocked by business. Though we had no way of knowing which businesses would benefit most – finance, sales, marketing; publishers, developers, educators – and hundreds more. So we needed to see how Trapit was being used, identifying the usage patterns in order to build our business plan around real market intelligence.
And we did. Last year, in April 2013, we launched our first business application – the Trapit Publisher Suite. In September, we followed up with Trapit’s Content Curation Center (CCC), a comprehensive personalized content discovery, curation, analysis, and delivery application that helps marketers solve the thorny problems of content marketing. Along the way, we offered our API’s to selected customers, allowing great companies like Zeebox to embed Trapit’s unparalleled content curation and recommendation technology into their own apps.
Which brings us to this bittersweet day. We’re a small team. Now that we know Trapit works beyond our initial expectations, it is time to end this incredibly important part of our history and concentrate fully on the market that we’d always hoped would materialize: business users. In making the transition from the free app to our current platform, significant changes were required. Many of the features and capabilities absolutely required for business use – capabilities that put the power of Trapit’s technology into the user’s hands, like advanced filtering, image and headline control, selection and automation of the content delivery, and many, many more – were well beyond the scope and practicality of a free consumer app. But as long as our free app remained in the market, our prospective business customers would be confused. “Why am I paying if I can get it for free?” Or, “I’m using Trapit now, but it doesn’t have the features and functions I need.”
Not surprisingly, I’ve been an avid Trapit user myself. I’ll miss keeping tabs on a wide list of my interests, both personal – like my bacon trap – and topics relevant to Trapit’s business – like my content marketing trap. Like so many of you, I’ll miss my daily email digest and the dynamic updates insuring that the topics important to me would always be current. But on a positive side, many of the users of our free app are getting their companies to embrace Trapit as the ultimate platform for content curation, allowing them to continue use our powerful CCC.
Trust that we understand your disappointment at the loss, and that we sincerely appreciate your loyalty, support, and the kind words we’ve heard from so many of you over this fascinating journey. We could not have done it without you, and we could not be more grateful.
-Gary, Trapit CEO and Co-founder
18 Comments Click here to read/write comments Posted by Gary Griffiths on Tue, Dec 17, 2013 @ 04:06 PM Tweet
We’re all familiar with Samuel Coleridge’s late-18th century “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” – the tormented sailor punished at sea, a dead albatross around his neck, dying of thirst while surrounded by water. Today, we live in oceans of data, yet struggle to quench our thirst for relevant content.
Recently, I was enjoying some cheese and wine after dinner. As I was about to put English Stilton on a water cracker, a colleague I was traveling with suggested I try the wheat cracker instead. “The Stilton will over-power that biscuit,” she said. “I think you’ll find the heartiness of the whole wheat will better stand up to the pungent blue cheese and sweet fig.” Now, I’m far from a gourmet, so I gladly accepted this well-informed advice. But my culinary ineptitude is hardly the point. What struck me was the breadth and depth and diversity of choices we are exposed to every minute of our lives. From the time we are born until our dying day, we are bombarded by – engulfed in – an overwhelming stream of ideas, choices, and information, from innumerable sources: visual, audible, tactile, and olfactory, and from an ever-increasing number of sources. This ranges from television to the Internet to the rants and ramblings of other human beings to the sounds, signals, salutations, or suggestions that assault our senses throughout all of our waking moments, rewinding and replaying, and we struggle to choose.
We’d like to believe we live in the Age of Information; we really live in the Age of Data. Data is an ocean… vast, deep, impenetrable, and unfathomable. We can easily drown in this ocean of data, swept away by rip currents of dancing cats and singing dogs and “must-buys.” Relevant information is the bounty from this ocean of data – the pearl of relevance from that oyster so obscure in a remote crevice so far beneath the surface. It is that sunken treasure undistinguished from the sands and seaweed and saline that has concealed it for so many centuries. Yet the course our lives take is determined by our ability to distinguish that which is relevant from that which is meaningless – the pearl from the mussel, the gold from the sunken treasure chest, from that rusted iron of a trawler’s hull.
The point is, the explosion of technology over the past decade has made this ocean of data deeper and wider – and treacherously so. I am struck by the observation that 90% of all the world’s content had been created in the past two years. The initial reaction is one of wonder and excitement – so much “content” in such a short time. Yet that observation makes no judgment on the quality or veracity of this content: are we to believe that the great works of countless millennia of human creativity: from Plato to Shakespeare to Da Vinci and Einstein – have been replicated – tenfold – in the past two years? Hardly. These great works of human intellect – from centuries ago and continuing today – will always be precious and desirable. But the ever-increasing quantity of data available today threatens to drown that information which is truly important, meaningful, and relevant – to you. For we each have different passions that swim in these vast oceans. And as these oceans get deeper and the tides higher and currents swifter, it is increasingly difficult to capture from these streams that which is personally relevant. Fact is, technology is not always synonymous with improved quality of our lives. Consider the Concord, which promised a future of supersonic air travel – still unrealized despite its maiden voyage nearly fifty years ago. Just as technology advancements have not materially improved the speed of air travel in our lifetimes, technology’s advancements in the ability to create data have not improved our ability to separate what is banal from what is relevant.
In short, our lives depend on our capacity to recognize and process the increasing streams of data that surround and assail us, and the actions we take based on our assimilation of this data – the art of discerning what is relevant from the vast majority that is personally absurd. And since the course and quality of our lives so depends on how effectively we discern the pearls from the scrap, even incremental improvements to the means have fundamental impact on the ends.
We believe Trapit is much more than an incremental improvement to the way groups and individuals can process data – it’s a tool that is revolutionary in its ability to assist in the filtering of an endlessly expanding flood of data. Curation is key in this hunt for content that matters to you or your audience. You can learn more about how Trapit can help evaporate this ocean and why you should be curating here.
1 Comments Click here to read/write comments Posted by Gary Griffiths on Tue, Sep 10, 2013 @ 04:55 PM Tweet
Information guides our lives. We make decisions based on consuming content received from many sources – from media in all forms, from conversation, from observation of our surroundings. Having the wrong content can be disastrous – consider the Iraq “WMD” fiasco. Timing is obviously critical – learning that the Bay Bridge was scheduled to close an hour after sitting in a horrific traffic jam is not of much value. And relevance is crucial – a shoe sale in New York City is of little import to consumers in San Francisco. In a recent LinkedIn survey of over 800 B2B marketers, 72% listed relevance as the most important aspect of successful content, as relevance correlates directly to audience engagement.
Content is the currency in which every marketer trades. We buy based on awareness – on understanding a product’s value – which is communicated by content in multiple forms. Getting the right content to a product’s audience – to inform, to influence behavior, generate new leads, to demonstrate thought leadership – all depends on delivering relevant content to the right audience at the appropriate place- when they are most likely to need it.
But we live in a tsunami of content – a tsunami that has grown too massive for humans to filter and recognize meaningful patterns. And current search technology, hampered by Search Engine Optimization (SEO), is at crossed purposed with finding unique, high-quality content. With so much content entering your customers’ inboxes, mobile devices, and social media feeds constantly, how can a marketer insure their brand rises above the clutter and stands out?
Today we are announcing the Trapit Content Curation Center, a powerful but intuitive, easily deployed, and affordable application that helps marketers do just that: provide a steady stream of unique, relevant, and timely content to their target audience on the devices they are most likely to consume it.
Our Content Curation Center is based on powerful Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning technology designed to cut through the clutter and extract only that content that is relevant and timely.
This same LinkedIn in study noted that the three most daunting challenges faced by marketers are 1) having the time, bandwidth and budget to create compelling content 2) difficulty in finding truly engaging content, and 3) finding or producing enough relevant content. Our Content Curation Center breaks through these roadblocks, tapping into Trapit’s massive library of original, high-quality content, discovering only that which is relevant to a specific product or brand. And, since it is important that your original content is infused in this stream, the Content Curation Center allows the addition of your own sources to the library.
But even if this relevant content, in sufficient quantity, was available, how can it be delivered – in an efficient and timely manner – to your customers? According to the LinkedIn survey, 31% of the marketers surveyed cited the delivery of content as their biggest challenge. The Content Curation Center navigates these hurdles as well, making it easy to deliver content – automatically – to social media feeds, or newsletters, email, your web site, mobile devices, or even integrated as a relevant content stream in other applications.
The Content Curation Center is all about choice, providing a wide range of options to allow the marketer control over the discovery and delivery of content relevant to their brand. For example, as noted above, new sources – either from the Internet or private sources sitting behind a company’s firewalls – can easily be added to Trapit’s digital library. And sources can be removed as well. The Content Curation Center provides a wide and powerful set of filters – filters that can prevent certain topics or companies – perhaps a competitor – from ending up in your stream. Filters that can limit content to specific areas. Or filters to determine the frequency of content delivery. And the level of redundancy in the content. Most importantly, Trapit allows the marketer to determine the level of automation in the distribution of content. For example, at Trapit we use the Content Creation Center to power over 200 Twitter feeds on topics ranging from food (@TheFoodieTrap) to fitness (@TheYogaTrap) to medicine (@ConcussionTrap). Once these topics were created and trained by our curators, we allow them to run fully automatically, posting content relevant to these topics at a frequency specified by the curator. It could be once a day or four-times-an hour – just another setting in our application. On the other hand, if the marketer would like to be more active in that process, the Content Curation Center offers “assisted curation,” giving control over which content is distributed – or not.
We’re excited to be releasing the Trapit Content Curation Center today. We are certain it is the most comprehensive application for content marketing available, and that our customers will save time and money while delivering content that is unique, relevant, and timely.
You can learn more about our Content Curation Center here:
0 Comments Click here to read/write comments Posted by Gary Griffiths on Tue, Aug 13, 2013 @ 01:43 PM Tweet
Humans are social animals. We’re wired for interactions with others. Our nature is to converse – to live in close proximity with other people. We thirst for the explicit approval of those around us – we are driven to conform, to be accepted. Anyone who’s completed Sociology 101 will tell you about the the fear of being ridiculed by the crowd – to be singled out as being “weird” or abnormal. Ask any military intelligence expert, or a prison warden, and they will attest to the effectiveness of separating an adversary from the community. Solitary confinement is indeed an efficient means of crushing the human spirit.
So given our native proclivity for immersion with others of our kind, there is little surprise in the popularity and explosive growth of social networks. In fact, some would argue that by tapping into the anonymity of being “social” on the Internet, these societies are even more popular than “real” life – those who are awkward in personal interaction can shine behind the shield of technology. And credit the technological geniuses for recognizing this basic human need and connecting the bits to the bytes to provide such a powerful medium for sharing thoughts and ideas and, hopefully, receiving some gratification. So yeah, social networks are hot – and important. We crave followers, re-tweets, likes, big Klout scores – the marks of acceptance by our virtual society. We want to be respected, admired, viewed as an integral part of the social fabric.
It is no surprise that businesses are exploiting the massive streams of commentary and sentiment on social networks and continually creating new ways to harness and exploit this rich medium. But as popular – and powerful – as the need for social acceptance is in both physical and virtual contexts, there is a downside. Consider, for example, trends. Let’s take Twitter. At this very moment, the top trending items on Twitter are: JJ Cale (sorry, wasn’t a fan), Korean War (hmm, that is intriguing), “asktommyrobinson” (well, I probably won’t), “5HFridayFollowSpree” (it’s Saturday already), and the always popular “O2Lfollowparty” (no idea, and hey, I’m no Luddite. I have three Twitter accounts). If you are a business leader – maybe a marketing professional looking to capture sentiment that may be able to help your business, there is not a lot to glean from this.
My point is that what is trending, or that which society – the net society in this case – considers important, may not be all that meaningful to your business. The “wisdom of the crowds” may be a bit of an oxymoron – unless your company is desperately anxious for the latest news on that “O2L Follow Party.” What is “hot” is often determined by personalities – by influential people who have large followings. Lady Gaga, for example, has nearly 40M followers on Twitter. Almost anything she tweets will have a massive ripple effect. Her most recent tweet (“We could be caught, were both convicted criminals of thought.” – Sex Dreams) was retweeted over 28,000 times and favorited by more than 13,000 people. So because of her massive following, Lady Gaga will set trends. Whether she tweets about music or fields where she has little expertise, say business, sports, or technology, her words will still be viewed by many as gems of knowledge and, yes, as trend-setters.
Our society is increasingly obsessed with brevity – the 140-character mentality – in which headlines matter and where long-form stories are most frequently left untouched. This can lead to a business blindly following trends embraced by the masses, threatening mass ignorance at a minimum or, worse, the real danger of using this medium to manipulate and control. The manipulation may, for example, come in the guise of one brand manipulating public sentiment about a competitor. In short, there is a very dark side of this echo chamber.
At Trapit, we love social networks. We love Facebook, and Twitter, and partner with both. In fact, Trapit runs over 200 topical accounts on Twitter – from @TheAppleTrap to @TheBigDataTrap or @TheSCOTUSTrap for fans of the Supreme Court, or @FutureTVTrap – and many, many more. For all of these Twitter topics, Trapit’s AI technology is tapping into the life-stream of the web, analyzing the millions of stories flowing through it, and sending the most relevant stories to the right Twitter accounts – whether it’s rumors about a new iPhone release or the latest on the high court’s position on gay marriage. Automatically. No human intervention required.
So why is this important? We believe that as much as your team may live, work, and even adore social networks, that your company is unique. Your business has a passion for information about topics that matter to your company, and especially to your customers. Even if the “crowd “ does not. No matter how broad or how obscure the topics that influence your business are, Trapit will discover them and deliver them to you. And as you dive deeper into those topics, it will learn more about your business objectives – what is relevant to your success – and deliver more of it. Because at the end of the day, while your company needs to understand the pulse of social networks, your business is not the crowd.
0 Comments Click here to read/write comments Posted by Gary Griffiths on Thu, Jul 11, 2013 @ 12:01 PM Tweet
The savvy marketing professional may remember April 23rd, 1985 – the day that The Coca-Cola Company announced that it was changing its venerable Coke formula that allegedly hadn’t been altered since 1886. The public outcry in response was so visceral and severe that Coca-Cola was forced to reverse their decision. Remarkably, this issue even hit the courts: consumer groups actually challenged Coca-Cola’s right to control this brand, arguing that the original Coke was so imbedded in the culture that it was now part of the public domain.
So like Coca-Cola, companies spend significant time, energy, and expense developing their brand, defining their message, and establishing their identity to the public. But a lot has changed since 1985. So now in the course of brand-building, businesses create digital assets, including websites, blogs and of course social media, in an attempt to create a conversation about their brand.
But community conversations have a dark side. Digital and social assets become stale as the irrepressible flood of new content pushes messages further and further away from the top story, the latest post, or list of trending tweets. As this happens, control of the conversation that these companies worked to create shifts away from the entity and perhaps toward competitors. But even at the bottom of the pile, these assets can have value — a well-crafted message is timeless.
The challenge, then, lies in resurfacing these assets when and where they support and enhance the desired brand image, and thereby hopefully shaping the conversation.
The Impact of the Digital Revolution
It was not long ago that advertising, pushed to consumers in print and television, was the primary mechanism for propagating a message to the public. But with the emergence of the Internet, consumption has increasingly been replaced by creation, and push has given ground to pull.
This transition was no accident. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and hundreds more, are built for sharing content. Combined, blogs and social media dominate content on the Internet. At their root, blogs and social media represent a democratization of content and publishing, where a brand’s story is conveyed, but not necessarily by the company that owns the brand. Rather, the story is often told by consumers sharing what they like – or don’t like – about a particular company or brand.
The goal has shifted from passive saturation to active engagement and the brand campaign cycle has shortened dramatically. Whereas a print campaign might last for three months with a reach of 10 million consumers, a story on TechCrunch leaves the front page within six hours. As a result, the digital revolution has necessitated that successful brand management becomes an ongoing, active and extremely dynamic process.
A Brand’s Invisible Web
The shortened brand campaign cycle is a reflection of the shortened news and information cycle precipitated by the Internet. Content is now published, through news organization, blogs, and social media, in a steady and never-ending stream. But individuals can only pay attention to so much at once. Yesterday’s content is quickly forgotten for whatever is at the top of the stack today, only to be buried by what comes next.
This creates an “invisible web” of content — the content that still lives on the Internet but is hidden from view by virtue of being off of the front page and out of the limelight. A brand’s invisible web, then, consists of the sum of brand-relevant content on the web, both positive and negative, past and present. The invisible web for a brand is a 360-degree, archival view that represents the history of engagement and conversation about the brand in the public sphere, which can either be exploited by the brand owner, or by its competitors.
The challenge, then, is clear: whoever controls the invisible web controls the brand message.
Automated Curation & Personalization
The paradox facing brands today is that if they have executed their marketing strategy effectively, they have established a vibrant, ongoing conversation about their brand in the marketplace. However, by virtue of achieving that result, the amount of content about the brand that exists on the Internet makes it virtually impossible for a person – or even a small team – to manage this content flood.
Applying automated content discovery technology lets computers do what humans cannot — continuously scan the web for content related to a brand, allowing an entity to make full use of the invisible web. By tapping into the wealth of content that is relevant to a specific brand, a company has the opportunity to become an influencer – a thought leader – rather than just a shill for their own products and services.
Advanced content discovery tools like Trapit provide brand managers with the ability to automatically curate content relevant to their products or categories, reviving beneficial content from the invisible web and delivering it to the community when that content is most important.
Curate your brand’s content. If you don’t, someone else may do it for you.
0 Comments Click here to read/write comments Posted by Gary Griffiths on Tue, Jul 02, 2013 @ 11:51 AM Tweet
You may remember the legend of John Henry – the post-Civil War railroad worker who put his muscle and sinew-powered hammer against that new-fangled technology: the steam hammer. Or maybe “The Matrix,” where the world as we know it was turned into something looking like Detroit – victim of “the Robot War.” And then there’s “Rocky IV,” which though never nominated for an Academy Award, but did have some pretty cool scenes of Rocky working out like John Henry in the snow, while the evil Ivan Drago pumped iron and chemicals in a laboratory with more wires and electronics than a bad Frankenstein movie.
In each of these stories – and there are hundreds more – the theme is the same: when will these pathetic lumps of flesh and bone – i.e., humans – be replaced by the superior strength, speed, and intelligence that can be delivered by the technology of machines?
In the early years of the 21st Century, US intelligence agencies spent years crawling through billions of bits of data in what would be the forensics of 9/11. Their conclusion: had this data been processed – and patterns recognized – in seconds, not years, 9/11 theoretically could have been prevented.
There’s not much debate that when it comes to crunching massive amounts of data, a computer will clean a human’s clock -all day long. And when it comes to drinking oceans of data, consider this: it is estimated that 90% of all the world’s content has been created in the past two years. From Fred Flintstone painting on cave walls to Plato and Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Emily Dickenson and George Lucas, all of these brilliant folks and thousands more in between account for only about 10% of the world’s content. Now, that is a statement of volume.
Machines have the ability to sift through massive amounts of data at light speed, recognizing patterns and ultimately delivering to you the content you want, so trying to use a human in the process is as outdated as asking old John Henry and his hammer to knock down Yosemite’s Half Dome, right? Well, maybe, but not so fast. Apart from the still nascent science of neural computing, machines today are binary. They are great at breaking information into elemental bits – ones and zeros – and crunching through streams of these bits really quickly, making comparisons, recognizing patterns which can eventually lead to recommendations. But despite the science fiction of “Terminator” and Schwarzenegger and Skynet, computers can’t think – at least not yet. Consider the battles between spammers and anti-spam filters, or the whole concept behind “Search Engine Optimization” – SEO – that really isn’t about optimizing your search at all, but rather about fooling machines into delivering you content that somebody else wants you to see. Machines can be fooled by rather simple structural elements of the non-digital language – for example, it would be easy to envision a story about a bird watchers club in Maryland getting delivered to a fan of The Baltimore Orioles – a mistake a human would not likely make.
Point is, while maybe Schwarzenegger may come back from the future some day as a killer android, that’s not today. Machines are awesome – manhas created remarkable technology that has improved our standards of living, dramatically increased leisure time, and enabled the Kardashians to become international icons. But, science fiction notwithstanding, machines are the tools of mankind – not the other way around. At Trapit, we love technology, we live on the Internet, and we’ve built our business around “Artificial Intelligence” and “Machine Learning.” In fact, remember that 9/11 project a couple of paragraphs ago? Well, from that, Trapit was derived! And so was Apple’s Siri! But we understand enough about machines to know that they are not ready – yet – to fully take on the task of curating content – of storytelling. For while machines do a wonderful job of quickly crunching billions and billions of bits of data, they don’t really understand nuance yet, or fully appreciate context, and semantics, even though great strides are being made in these areas.
In our Trapit business application, we offer the option of “assisted curation” to our customers – that is, allowing a human to intervene in the last mile, making the final decision on which of the stories recommended by Trapit will actually be posted. For any topic Trapit can provide an accurate pool of content to choose from, from millions of articles are selected dozens (try that on your own). But perhaps one article’s take is a little bit too bullish on a competitor. Or a blog post focuses on a region where you don’t do business. There could be hundreds of reasons that relevant content doesn’t quite fit. But Trapit can do the heavy lifting, saving time and money, while leaving subtleties of storytelling—selecting the best of the best content to capture your unique message—up to you.
So Skynet – what’s the beef, man? We come in peace – we’re not looking for a fight. Can’t we all just be friends?
Trapit CEO and Co-founder
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