science

Wizag offers semantic analysis, attention to RSS

RSS is world changing technology, but it risks getting bogged down in information overload. The simple solution is a system like MyYahoo where a limited number of feed items are displayed and the interface is most conducive to subscribing to a small number of feeds. The power user needs a lot more, though, and the holy grail for many RSS feed reader developers is a working relevance engine.

The newest player in this field is Wizag. It’s an online feed reader that incorporates attention data and semantic analysis in regards to both your feeds and the larger community of Wizag users. It recommends topics, visualized points of intersection between topics and new feeds based on your interaction with the subscriptions you already have. The implementation is a little slow and it’s nothing pretty to look at, but the technology is interesting.

The company says it aims to release an enterprise edition later this month. Unless this is a radically different tool based on the same technology it probably doesn’t stand a chance against Attensa, but for now the personal edition of Wizag is worth a look.

Wizag is a 12 person team based in Irvine, California. It’s self funded and lead by founder Ping Liang, whose previous company TransDimension made USB technology to connect digital cameras to printers and was sold to Oxford Semiconductor in 2005. In early development, Wizag was called Diggol but has changed its name – thank goodness.

A river of news option to display individual items in order of publication across all feeds is a must have for me and Wizag is lacking that to date, but there’s more to life than chronology.

Here’s what’s cool about Wizag. The service’s semantic analysis pulls topics out of each post in the feeds you are subscribed to and lets you click to read all posts in your feeds related to the same topic. Most feed readers have a search function, but Wizag finds likely topics and lists the number of other items in subscriptions that discuss the same topic. It’s a smart automation of possible searches before they are even performed.

You can tag, comment and vote on any item in your feeds. It’s a shame that this metadata stays inside Wizag, but item ranking, or determining the order that items appear in your reader, is done through an algorithm that incorporates the click-throughs, votes, comments and subscriptions you and other users have gestured with.

Rojo offers something similar, but its relevance function appears to be based entirely on the attention data of the whole Rojo community, whereas in Wizag there’s a lot you can do with your feeds through a filter of your own past behavior alone. Wizag does more with your data but has a far less friendly interface.

Wizag also offers two means of visualization that could be useful. The Topic Cloud displays the topics gleaned from the semantic analysis with the largest number of items and maps out the links between those topics. You can click on the line drawn between two topic nodes to read stories that contain both terms.

The Trend Graph displays the fastest rising and fading topics in your feeds or all user feeds over whatever period of time you select. Though other attention engines take the time factor into consideration, it’s nice that Wizag makes that data available in visual form and breaks it up into all users or just your feeds.

With time this company may be able to nail the truly useful features here and jettison some of what’s weighing the system down. Making powerful use of attention data in an RSS reader, without taking too much control away from readers, is a huge challenge. Offering extensive analytics in a clear fashion so the user experience isn’t too unpleasant is where Wizag has missed the boat so far.

Last week I profiled TouchStone, a desktop app that does a whole lot of things right. It’s a tool for information triage, though, and only a compliment for a smart system for basic feed reading. Wizag brings a number of things to the table that deserve consideration. For now I’ll stick with NetNewsWire and hope that my own manual determination of relevance doesn’t leave me missing out on too much important news.

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