Veri Looks Very Interesting, A Q&A With The CEO

You may not have heard that another personalized news service has launched out of private beta. The new application is called Veritocracy, or Veri for short. They have a post regarding their launch which describes some of the basic features:

Simply put, Veri gives you a personalized view of the topics and news stories that interest you. The system brings together articles from the blogosphere, mainstream media, and readers, and then helps group them into specific and narrow topics (like a news story, a stock or a movie). As a reader, you simply vote up on the articles you like and down on the ones you don’t, and Veritocracy automatically learns to feed you the best articles on the topics that interest you most.

Because I try to stay away from traditional application reviews, I decided to have a Q&A with the Veri CEO, Lee Hoffman, who was kind enough to answer a bunch of questions over email.

1. In a nutshell, what does Veri do?

Veri is a personalized news/content site. It finds the topics and news stories you are interested in, and gives you the best articles about each. The basic idea is to help each of us get better and more relevant information, in less time. If you read and vote on the articles you like, Veri will do the rest.

2. In looking at the site, it seems like a mix between Digg and TechMeme. Is that a fair assessment?

Digg and Techmeme pioneered a lot of the innovations in this space, so I think you could say most news sites have elements of both. At the end of the day though, we think there is a significant need for more personalized, and more relevant information. As the amount of content online grows, the need for this type of filter becomes more and more essential.

3. Who do you think your competitors are?

To a certain extent, the rest of the web is a competitor, because we’re all looking for eyeballs. But one of the nice things about Veri is that it compliments a whole range of content platforms and services. Veri helps readers find better information, but it also helps authors build organic traffic. Every time you write on Veri, the system automatically feeds your content to other like-minded authors and readers. At the end of the day Veri is really just about Increasing the efficiency of content, which is a win/win for everyone involved.

4. Why do this now? Is there a particular problem you are trying to solve?

There are a lot of ways to look for content. Whether you use RSS, social news, twitter, or just the New York Times, you have to look for the articles you’re interested in reading. And even when you find an article you’re interested in, is the article credible? Are you getting the complete story? With millions of people out there writing about this topic, why aren’t you getting the best information available? Veritocracy helps unchain you from these feeds and subscriptions, because the things you really want will start coming to you automatically.

5. One feature that is much different than other social news sites is the idea behind “publishing” blog posts/articles. What is the idea behind this?

We’re creating a platform that brings together the best ideas and analysis on any topic, regardless of whether the author is a famous writer, blogger, or simply a smart reader. So when you read Veri, if you have a better perspective on the story you’re reading, you can easily submit it and begin connecting with new people.

6. The comment system is not really just commenting, it almost looks like a blogging platform. Why provide that instead of standard comments?

Our objective is to give each user the best information on each topic / news story they read about. We start with full form articles, because the core of web information is still derived from them. However, we definitely have not overlooked the fact there are a variety of other formats for content, including comments, tweets, video, images, etc… Long story short stay tuned…

7. Are you concerned there will be any critics of the fact that you provide the full text from the RSS feed, along with your long form comments? Do you see this as similar to questions raised about Shyftr and the new Google Reader features?

Veri is designed to be a mutually beneficial tool that feeds better content to each reader, and in doing so, implicitly helps drive traffic and exposure to publishers. I would relate what we’re doing very much to a “smart” RSS reader. Like RSS readers, we give the publisher full control of their content. They can choose to put as little or much of each article into the feed that appears on Veri. And of course they can remove their feed altogether at any time. I think most publishers are starting to understand though, that there is a significant value proposition in any technology that automatically exposes new targeted readers to their content.

8. Does the platform learn your likes and dislikes based on the voting and commenting?

Yes. You simply vote up for the articles you were glad you read, and down for the ones you weren’t, and Veri does the rest. Without going into overly complex details, the technology behind Veri essentially estimates how accurately every other user and publisher predicts what you want to see (by comparing vote patterns). Our secret sauce is that we figured out a new way to do this, that significantly ramps up the accuracy. At the end of the day, the idea is to simulate what it would be like if you hired a team of 1000 editors to scour the web and find the content you would want to read.

9. Are you planning on opening up the platform with RSS feeds for topics or an API?

Absolutely. There are significantly complexities in dealing with traffic and load management when you release an api (as Twitter has demonstrated quite a bit!), and the challenge is exponentially harder when you are dealing with 100% personalized data. We’re taking a very measured approach, so that when we do open everything up, we can ensure a level of reliability and QOS that our users and partners expect.