Minekey at Stanford & on TechCrunch

I have written about Minekey in the past. It’s a startup that I had been involved in back in college. Today, was a great day for Minekey because it launched a new revamped site, with a much cooler widget and loads of customizability options which is what users have been looking for. The new site looks absolutely super-cool. Kudos to the team who’ve been working hard day and night.

The new updated offering is being showcased at the Always on Stanford Summit 2007, as one of the top 50 participants at the Stanford University campus. It is truly a momentous occasion for all of us — employees, alumni and well-wishers of Minekey. Minekey had also presented at Proto.in at IIT Madras last weekend.

Meanwhile, Minekey has been TechCrunched. This should drive a lot of traffic to the site, and create a lot of traction. I just hope that the servers can scale to the hits it is going to get in the next few days.

A word about Minekey again. Minekey aims to make the life of blog-readers simple by providing them recommendations based on both the content of the current page as well as the reader’s past reading habits. So, if the reader is generally interested in cricket news and visits a web-page about the stock market, it will show links from both cricket as well as stock market. It takes personalization to a whole new level because current services only provide recommendations based on the current context. The blog publisher can indicate a list of sources from which Minekey should aggregate content so show recommendations on their website. Hence, if you have multiple blogs you can aggregate content across all of them.

If you haven’t yet, try it out!

[Sadly, WordPress.com does not allow blogs to add custom widgets and so I can’t be the user of the Minekey widget :(]

UPDATE:

Some more coverage: pluGGd.in, StartupSquad, TekJuice, Bona Bhatia, Gulker, Rajiv Doshi, Delip Andra, 9:01AM, Venture Beat, VC Circle, alarm:clock, BlogSchmog, WebWare, ContentSutra, Pavithra, reyes-chow, American Venture Magazine,

And it’s also made it to today’s del.icio.us popular. (Link may not work later. If someone knows how to find the permalink of a particular day’s popular on del.icio.us, please let me know!)

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Don Dodge on my Blog!

Ok. Here’s this guy whose blog you read. He leads a rather big organization in one of the largest software companies in this world, and you feel that his is one voice in all the commotion that makes some sense. For that reason, you might miss TechCrunch, but you try not to miss his blogs. And then one day, you get up, and see that he had recently visited your blog.

don_dodge

Oh, it feels good. Thank you Don Dodge. I know I don’t write the kind of content that you do, but rest assured that I read every one of your posts. And what I like about them is that instead of giving news, they give insights.

Oh, and not to mention that a common employer also makes me more of your fan!

UPDATE: And Don actually came back and commented on my blog! Wow.

The Web in 1994

Found this video by Digital Equipment Corporation (Digital, later Altavista … and now I don’t know where) about how this new phenomenon called the Internet is taking over the world.

Ah, Nostalgia!

[From John Battelle]

Digg on the LAMP Stack

This is an interesting article on how Digg leverages the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP). The article describes how Digg started with one server, added a load balancer and other tricks to scale up. Right now, they work with well over 100 servers and scalability always remains a challenge because they are growing so fast.

I would have liked a longer article with more technical details, but something is better than nothing I guess.

What would you like to Read today?

Minekey was a wonderous experience. It all started off about a year and a half back, when Delip came to IIT Kharagpur with a vision to solve the world’s information overload problem. The aim was simple — let content consumers get access to the information they are interested in.

If we look at the world today, most content producers and aggregators produce content for the general audience. That means that the news will be of all flavors, all topics and categories. However, it also means that if you wish to track news on a particular topic from a plethora of sources (and there is no dearth of them!), it is like finding a needle in a haystack, or a key in an information mine – which is incidentally where Minekey got its name from (if you couldn’t guess it already ;-).

As it goes, a handful of super charged students from IITKGP got together with Delip and Prof. Sudeshna Sarkar, and started working on this new project with a new model for incubation. The company was based in Santa Clara, and we were doing the R&D and the initial bootstrapping from Kharagpur.

Ideas flew — personalization, networking, recommendation, search, social connections, groups, communities, feedback, ranking, clustering, collaborative clustering, geo-personalization — you name it. Lots of ideas, debates, deliberations, re-iterations, progress spreadsheets, throwaway code, reusing old code, search, open source services, days and months later, we had a strategy in place. We created a news portal for the world at large (which was still an Alpha), we had strong customer leads, a model seemed to be emerging.

A lot of water has since flowed in the Ganges. There is a definite strategy, the company is well funded, there are people who have left plum jobs to work at Minekey, the business model has been refined and Minekey is staring at an immense opportunity. Kudos to the current team to take a prototype and build a real product.

Minekey has now launched recommendations for blogs! You get a sweet looking widget on your sidebar in a matter of minutes, and your friends would be able to get recommendations. Minekey monitors their clicks and as the users click from the widget, the personalization kicks in, to recommend more and more stories according to the users taste. (Sadly, WordPress doesn’t support JavaScript, otherwise you would have seen one right here. I need to work on a workaround).

Go get it now!

Barcamp Bangalore 3

I attended Barcamp Bangalore 3 today, held at IIM Bangalore. I reached early and saw the place getting organized in a ad-hoc manner. Initially there was chaos, and gradually order emerged. It was very interesting to see how the whole thing got organized with just a handful of volunteers. The event was well attended, with I think an attendance of well over 300 people. Kudos to the organizers!

There were a number of interesting sessions arranged around the broad themes of Mobiles, Society, Internet and Demo/Training. I felt that the mobile room by far attracted the largest crowds. Randy Wang kicked off the society room with a talk about Digital Study Hall. Thereafter, I spent most of my time in the mobile room. some of those that I attended and liked:

  • Impact of Camera phones by Wwigo people — The key takeaway was that mobiles with cameras are becoming ubiquitous and there are interesting applications going to become prevalent. Some pointers are in the area of (1) scanning barcodes and finding more information about products, (2) Citizenship Journalism and many others. The form factor of the UI is a severe limitation. Privacy concerns abound and also to whom does the rights of a picture belong (subject or shooter). They showed a demo of their product Wwigo which lets you use your camera phone as a web cam with your PC.
  • Activ Mobs — This was by far the most exciting demo I attended. The idea is Yahoo! groups ported to mobiles. They let users create small groups (which they call mobs) using mobile phones and let people message all their friends at once with a single SMS. The utility is obvious and the product is already a hit with the target crowd (18-25) with more than 10k users and 25k SMSs sent every day. They are still trying to figure out their revenue story and find investors, but the concept is cool, and can spread like a virus. I tried it out and they have some kinks due to overloading, but hopefully the service will only get better with time.

They talked about their learning in the last 4 months that the service is up. For one, they add Activ-Tip when the message is less than 100 chars, and have found that people actually read them. That could help them monetize it by replacing the Activ Tip by an (context-sensitive) advertisement. Secondly, it is difficult to enforce a format/grammar on the users since it is difficult to remember commands and syntax. Thirdly, which is a really interesting concept — instead of providing a web-interface which is completely different from their mobile interface, they are building a command-builder UI which lets the users easy build commands on the screen and submit online (with suitalbe help/directions). This will not only help in usability, but also help the users to remember the commands.

They also described their stack – Linux, Kennel, MySQL, Ruby, and a web server.

Good luck to these guys (Akshat, Sidu and Vidit)!

  • mChek – mChek is a mobile payment solution which is currently live in Delhi. Airtel customers can pay their bills through their credit card using mChek as a gateway. It is good to see such gateways being set up since that is going to spur mobile commerce and more services being sold through mobiles. They use SMS + USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Data) to register and make payments. They claim that the USSD provides them an advantage over the other players such as Pay Mate and is also more secure (since USSD is not saved in sent items). They are certified by VISA. However, there were some issues raised about security in the light of the PIN and credit card number being sent in clear text.
  • Zook – This is a mobile search solution on both SMS and GPRS. They have tried to keep extremely structured data in their databases which the query against the users question and display results, unlike Google/Yahoo!/MSN mobile search which essentiallly try to mimic their usage of unstructured data as on the web. They currently only focus on a few categories (ringtones/wallpapers/flights/restaurants/events etc.) due to the restriction of having structured data. Another choice they have made is to prompt the user with more users in case they can not find exact solution. For instance, if you such for Pizza, they might come back to ask you if you are looking for Pizza in Bangalore? and even names of localities such as Koramangla. They feel that this interaction differentiates them from other providers. They also have the option of the users contributing to their knowledge base, but I would not buy this poing until they can demonstrate its efficacy with large number of users.
  • Socio-Net – This was about Social Networks becoming pervasive in future. Social Networks will evolve to become intelligent with personalization, intelligent minig of information, and closer integration with other applications, unlock collaboration and become drivers of many of our current applications. I feel that social networks have been in existence long before (LDAP, IM, Amazon, mailing lists) they became branded so, and what we are going to see is the defintion of Social-Networking applied to it. The reason I call Amazon a social network is because they are implicitly adding ‘friend‘-edges between people who bought the same book and doing collaborative filtering on it. There is need for more research in the area with many interesting applications possible (Mechanical Turk, Community Customer Support). There was a (rather) long discussion about entreprises having social networks so that employees spend time on their own social networks rather than external sites like Orkut. While I am all for leveraging social networks in an enterprise setting, I would not subscribe to providing a company social network like infosys.orkut.com on which employees can spend time. That is legalizing time pass :-) There can be better models.

Overall, some great ideas and it was great fun!

[]

The Web is Us/ing Us

Saw this amazing video on Youtube today.

This video by Professor Michael Wesch of Kansas State University quickly became one of the most popular videos on YouTube. What I really loved about this video was that it summarizes what Web 2.0 is all about — How unshackling the data from the formatting has enabled a whole new paradigm of internet usage. A great watch.

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