FollowThis Aims to Be the Smarter Alternative to Google Alerts

February 13, 2012

9:47 am

Imagine having your finger on the pulse of your favorite topic – whether it’s Justin Bieber or the Large Hadron Collider. If you’re a lawyer, you’ll never miss a related court decision; if you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll never waste time figuring out what’s up in your industry – and with your competitors.

This is where FollowThis comes in. Or, at least, that’s the plan. Right now, the Connecticut-based startup is in alpha and still a work in progress.

With a FollowThis bookmarklet installed, you just click on it while you’re reading an article on your favorite topic, then verify the alert in your email (a step that probably could be eliminated). FollowThis delivers related content straight to your inbox with no frills: just a plain-text title and short snippets from the piece.

For example, I followed “Facebook’s Mobility Challenge” and had a list of around 65 related articles in my inbox within 3 days (when I stopped the alert). But around 15 were unrelated, in my opinion, and some of the links didn’t work.

FollowThis grew out of a five-day hackathon in Berlin last September with the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews, a project to encourage reporters and developers to collaborate on the future of journalism.

The technology behind FollowThis originally used semantic engines from OpenCalais, Daylife, and Zemanta. Founder Matt Terenzio is considering adding open-source semantic technology and possibly letting users choose which engines to use.

“News shapes our view of the world and that’s too important to leave up to a black-box algorithm like Google News. That goal won’t happen this Spring, but I’d like it to be the case by year’s end,” says Terenzio, who has built websites for news organizations.

He is also debating possibilities for delivering the content – for example, through a dedicated RSS feed, an HTML5 app, or (better yet, in terms of business models) a widget embedded on news sites.

So FollowThis is definitely a sketchy work in progress, but it does highlight the one-dimensionality of following keywords with Google Alerts. (Personally, my alert summaries on “innovation” often go unread.)

FollowThis is an alternate in the 2012 SXSW Accelerator.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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