Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Gravity Wants to Instantly Personalize Any Content Site

Today Gravity is unveiling its plans to be an information filtering service. The idea is to combine social and semantic understanding of users to identify content they are likely to be interested in.

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company is demoing this idea as a personalized newspaper app called The Orbit (to be released soon). The Orbit takes a user’s Twitter account and computes the topics a person is interested in and the network she is connected to. For any one Web page, Gravity might look at how recent it is, how popular it is, how relevant it is to a person’s interest and how many of that person’s friends have shared it.

Eventually, said Gravity CEO Amit Kapur, the company wants to offer personalization services to publisher sites. So when I go to the New York Times with Gravity enabled, for example, I would be able to get a view of the site’s content that’s weighted to what I am likely to be interested in.

I think that’s an awesome idea (though I do appreciate the roles of editorial curation and serendipity in bringing me my news). This is similar to what Facebook is trying to do with its controversial Instant Personalization product, where a user logged in to Facebook arrives at a new site that already knows who his friends are.

The problem is, what Gravity is setting out to do–both the natural-language processing and computational side, and the nitty-gritty of integrating into other peoples’ Web sites–is really freaking hard. And, no offense guys, but the Gravity team’s big experience to date was working at Myspace–not exactly a pinnacle of technical achievement.

When the company briefed me on what it was doing, it prepared a poster-size personal interest graph based on analysis of my Twitter account (that’s it at the top of the post; click to enlarge). Well shucks, guys–it seems to be just a bunch of words and topics I’ve mentioned in Tweets over the last few years, connected by lines. Doesn’t really convince me that you understand that much about me and what I want to read.

Still, Gravity has quite a bit going for it: A good idea, and $10 million from top investors at Redpoint Ventures and August Capital, plus advising by machine learning and computational linguistics professors at Stanford and UC Berkeley.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work