A Yahoo Widget Using Social Network Activity to Recommend Blog Posts? Working with MyBlogLog?

Many blogs display a list of “recent” blog posts or “most popular” blog posts in their sidebars, using a plugin widget. But those lists of blogs stay the same regardless of who is visiting the blog.

Imagine a sidebar widget for a blog that can consider the online activities of visitors at sites like Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Youtube, Digg, and Netflix, and recommend older blog posts from the blog being visited.

This widget might not only look at tweets and status updates and digs, or tags posted for pictures and favorited videos, but it may also pay attention to what those visitors blog about on their own sites, or what they enter into a user profile, or which articles they may read on a site.

A Yahoo patent application describes how they might put together such a widget, and how it might gather information to use to make recommendations:

Augmenting Online Content with Additional Content Relevant to User Interests
Invented by Saurabh Sahni, Ian Kennedy, Pankaj Kothari, Todd Sampson, Emanuel Miller, John Sampson, Chris Goffinet, Steve Ho, Raymund Ramos, Mani Kumar
Assigned to Yahoo
US Patent Application 20100023506
Published January 28, 2010
Filed: December 31, 2008

The patent provides some examples of how this widget could work. We’re told that it could be implemented as a plugin for blogging software like WordPress, and it could connect to a lifestreaming service such as MyBlogLog or Friendfeed or others. Lifestreaming services allow people to aggregate and display information from multiple social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter or Delicious.

An example from the patent filing on how this widget might work:

As an example, suppose that two users, Alice and Bob, are residents of San Francisco. Bob frequently blogs (i.e., writes blog entries on his blog site) about Web 2.0 and social media, and sometimes about San Francisco. Alice recently posted a video on the YouTube.TM. video sharing web site and photos on the Flickr.TM. photo sharing web site, both tagged San Francisco. Also, Alice’s profile on the LinkedIn.TM. social networking web site suggests that she is a doctor.

Alice blogs about San Francisco, medicines, and related topics. Bob posted a comment in a recent post related to San Francisco on Alice’s blog. The URL of Bob’s blog was included in Bob’s comment, and Alice curiously clicked on the URL to find content of interest to her on Bob’s blog. However, most of Bob’s recent posts are related to Web 2.0, with only some of Bob’s older posts being related to San Francisco.

The older posts are not shown on Bob’s blog unless they are specifically requested, e.g. by following web links to older posts or by searching for older posts that contain the words San Francisco. Alice does not see the older posts when she visits the main page of Bob’s blog, and consequently does not see any content of interest.

The widget may be added to Bob’s blog site to solve this problem. More specifically, Bob’s blog may include a plugin link in the blog content, e.g., in an HTML page that contains the blog content. The plugin link causes the web site to display posts relevant to the visitor’s interests. These relevant posts may be displayed, for example, on a side portion of the web page. The posts relevant to Alice’s interests (San Francisco) are made more visible, e.g., highlighted, by the widget, allowing Alice to quickly spot Bob’s older San Francisco-related posts that interest her.

The patent filing goes into a fair amount of depth on different ways that it might capture information involving a person’s social network activities to build a profile that could be used to identify blog posts that might interest that person. It also mentions MyBlogLog as a possible source of some of this information.

There were some rumors circulating at the end of 2009 that Yahoo might close down MyBlogLog. A fairly quick response from the Yahoo Developer’s Network blog, one day after the start of the rumors noted that closing MyBlogLog was something they had considered, but gave us notice that something else might be in the works:

Is a shutdown on the table? Sure, that’s an option. But there are other options as well. We know this creates some uncertainty for current MyBlogLog users. While we aren’t quite ready to share more details, we promise to keep you posted.

Is a widget like this one a possible option in the future of MyBlogLog? It’s a possibility.

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11 thoughts on “A Yahoo Widget Using Social Network Activity to Recommend Blog Posts? Working with MyBlogLog?”

  1. Hi Mark,

    I’m not quite sure what you’re asking, but I’ll try to give you an answer.

    From the description of this widget, it sounds like it would create a profile for a person who might visit a site, based upon information found upon recent blog posts they might make, tweets from twitter, status updates from Facebook, movies favorited at netflix, and from other sources. When a person then visits a blog that uses this widget, and the widget is in the sidebar of the blog, the visitor might see recommendations of blog posts to read based upon their profile.

    The patent application doesn’t tell us that one source of information or another might be more helpful in making these recommendations, but it’s possible that some might be more helpful than others. For example, if you blog about things that interest you, but your tweets are primarily foursquare updates and conversations, then information from your blog might provide better recommendations for blog posts than your tweets.

  2. it is fascinating how this technology is targeting user intent. I sort of like the idea of allowing a site which serves different levels or groups of users to display relevant material. One problem though: does discovery of something new fall to the wayside if such a widget determines the intent of the user, and serves up relevant data? Take Lifehacker as an example. If I focus on ways to improve Firefox in my comments on social media streams, do I miss a post on an offline productivity tool which may help me when I go to that site? All in all, this sounds like a positive tool for site owners.

  3. Hi Frank,

    I’d definitely consider using this if Yahoo decides to release it. I’ve seen a number of blogs that include “most popular posts” or “top blog posts” widgets in their sidebars. This would be another that bloggers could use in addition.

    It could potentially make older blog posts more visible, and more likely to be visited, especially since those posts may be someway related to something they’ve blogged about recently, or shared a link about, or tweeted on. I think, in that way, it enhances discoverability, by making posts that someone might specifically be interested in much more accessible than having them dig through archives pages or site search results.

    The profile created would likely use a tagging system, so if you’ve recently written or tweeted or created status updates about Firefox, bug fixes, productivity, or browsers, chances are that the widget would display recommended pages for you based upon matches with tags that match those topics. So, you might not see old posts on Lifehacker about an offline only desktop calendar or spell checker as recommendations, but you would still be able to search Lifehacker, or browse through their topics, or use their tagging system to uncover other things you might be interested in.

    If your recent “lifestreaming” activities aren’t really a good match for what you might be looking for on a site that might use a widget like this, then those recommendations might not lead you to things that you are interested in, but the patent application does mention that they would likely only look at your recent activities to show recommended blog posts. So the next time you visit that site, the recommendations that you see might be a better match.

  4. Hi Suraj,

    Thank you very much for pointing that page out.

    The timing of their publication matches up well with the filing of the patent application. It looks like they sent the patent filing to the USPTO a few months after publishing the post. Mani Kumar and Saurabh Sahni are listed as the creators of the plugin, and their names appear amongst the inventors listed on the patent application. The post also notes that a patent has been filed for the widget.

    The wordpress page for the plugin is at:

    http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/mybloglog-justforyou/installation/

    It looks like the plugin hasn’t been updated since 2008-8-19, and it is only compatible up to WordPress 2.6. If they really want people to use their plugins, they need to keep them up to date. Unfortunately, they haven’t.

    The “Just for You” widget is included as a plugin choice in MyBlogLog, but they don’t show a screenshot, and the copy included with it isn’t the most compelling that I’ve seen.

  5. This widget is a great progression in linking the relevancy of social network activity and blogs.I’m just surprised that Google hasn’t beaten Yahoo to it, as they are so fastidious about improving relevancy of results!

  6. Hi Websearchworkshop,

    Google does have their own approach to targeting ads, including the use of searching and browsing history, and in places like GMail. It’s possible that they may take steps like this one as well. Guess we wait and see.

  7. At least 4 of the people listed on the patent application were working with MyBlogLog since very early on, including 2 founders.
    All the original founders are no longer @ Yahoo – hard to tell who is still there.

  8. Hi Andy,

    Very good point. Maybe we can get an idea of who might still be at Yahoo amongst the inventors listed on the patent:

    Saurabh Sahni – His LinkedIn page says he is currently a Tech Lead at Yahoo!

    Ian Kennedy – His LinkedIn page tells us that he is now Head of Service Innovation at Nokia.

    Pankaj Kothari – His LinkedIn profile lists a most recent position as Senior Engineering Manager at Yahoo!

    Todd Sampson – LinkedIn tells us that he left Yahoo in March, 2009, and that he is working with a number of companies as an advisor or in other roles.

    Emanuel Miller – According to LinkedIn became a Senior Performance Engineer at SunRun Inc. in August of 2008, since leaving the MyBlogLog team.

    John Sampson – Former lead engineer at MyBlogLog; his LinkedIn shows him to be a co-founder of Zentact, and involved in a couple of other companies since his July 2008 departure from MyBlogLog.

    Chris Goffinet is now (LinkedIn) a Senior Infrastructure Engineer at Digg.

    Steve Ho (LinkedIn) left MyBlogLog and Yahoo in June, 2009, and is now a DBA/Developer at cloudspace.

    Raymund Ramos (LinkedIn is still at Yahoo, though he is now working at a NGD/OfferApps Service Engineer.

    Mani Kumar (LinkedIn) left Yahoo in January 2009, and is now a Senior Software Engineer at SlideShare

    So, it appears that there are only three people left (listed on the patent application) who worked on MyBlogLog at Yahoo, and a couple of them looked like they were working on development of the project in Bangalore. I don’t believe that they were amongst the original founders of MyBlogLog. This post on the MyBlogLog blog tells us that a number of these people joined the team after the acquisition:

    2008 State of the Log

    Eric Marcoullier and Scott Rafer had already left at that point.

    The idea of using lifestreaming information is interesting, and I suspect the notion might survive beyond MyBlogLog in one form or another.

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