Alltop has a new version out with some pretty cool customization features, as well as the ability to claim a domain… the best way to see this in action is to go to Adobe’s Alltop news page. I setup my custom page but I couldn’t figure out how to get jnolan.alltop.com, it just keeps forwarding to the myalltop page I created, which only proves that it’s not foolproof, not that it doesn’t work as promised.
One feature that was most interesting to me was the search feature that delivered results as a topic page, as in content oriented to the search keyword organized by source. This is good but it’s not good enough as it relies exclusively on a taxonomy and dictionary based approach that maps to the keyword you are searching on.
So let’s dig into this and you will see why it quickly hits the wall. A search on “Ford” returns a suggested category of “autos” and that is correct, while a search on “cabernet” returns two possible categories, “dads” and “wine”. Why “cabernet” would return “dads” remains a mystery to me but clearly “wine” is a correct category, even if it’s a little broad… a search on “bordeaux” returned nothing at all. Similarly, a search on “Warren Buffet” returned a bunch of categories but none that would be topically relevant, such as business or finance.
You start to see the problem, the more specific the search the less likely to return a result, yet this is exactly how people will use a service like this. I may well want to visit the wine topic page but, at least in my view, the Bordeaux topic page would be far more interesting. The keyword approach to navigating a taxonomy is fraught with error because it’s unreasonable to build the deep dictionaries that would be necessary to do it well. Maybe Freebase’s model works here, I don’t know for sure but it seems like a logical strategy to overcoming this barrier.
The second big limitation of Alltop is that their approach to topic content is not post driven. Is my blog a tech, finance, politics and current events, clean tech, cars, or media blog? I have written about all of these topics in the last 30 days and do so with regularity so where should it be categorized? If I were categorized in all of those slots, would the Alltop page for, as an example, autos be “polluted” when my blog shows up with a bunch of finance topics? Yeah I think it would. I just don’t think you can do this kind of content aggregation at the blog title level, you have to do it at the post level and offer some clustering or organizing features as well.
In the final equation Alltop is one more service that attempts to deliver content aggregation, and with latest version they are delivering a namespace as well (which is actually pretty cool). The state of the art in this area is moving pretty quickly and while Alltop is pleasing to use for broad stuff, it is plagued by an approach that is fundamentally flawed and as they attempt to go out and sell this to brands and media (assuming that’s the plan) these shortcomings will put them at a disadvantage to other companies with advanced services that overcome the content selection and categorization challenges.