Thursday, November 15, 2012
Curating The Web Using PublishThis, with Matt Kumin
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
If you're a web publisher, or even a brand developing your own outreach to customers through a newsletter or microsite, how do you efficiently gather and curate all of the news and information out there? Right now, it's a manual process--unless you're using the tools from Los Angeles-based PublishThis (www.publishthis.com). The firm has created a tool which uses software and semantic search to help in the whole process of curating content. We spoke with Matt Kumin, the company's founder and CEO--who was formerly an executive at Edmunds.com--to learn about the company's products.
What's your background, and what is PublishThis all about?
Matt Kumin: I've been working in digital and Internet in LA since 1995, and have been doing this for a number of years. Prior to starting PublishThis, I was the General Manager for Edmunds.com, the automotive site here in Santa Monica. I ran that between 2001 and 2008, and then left to start what has become PublishThis. We're a content curation platform, software-as-a-service for content, and we are focused on helping companies engage their customer more directly using content. What we have built, is semantic search technology, which is able to find the most relevant, topical content, and the most socially relevant content, to compliment any content a publisher already has developed for them self. It's all about what is happening on the realtime web. We have a number of curation and publishing tolls that let our users write metacontent and annotations on the content, and to create fresh content feeds they can place on their website, in a newsletter, on mobile, or on social. Nowadays, brands, everyone is a publisher, and the real challenge is to do publishing and find fresh content, without hiring an army of people.
What does this look like to brands and publishers?
Matt Kumin: Lots of brands are buildling website and microsites. American Express is an example, they were early into this with their Open Forum site, where they are trying to drive engagement, authority, and trust, so they're now starting to look more like a publisher. Whether these brands are building a web site or newsletter, we're bringing content to them in a way that is engaging, and which can also drive some real value for that brand and for the end user.
Is this a subscription or do these publishers buy software?
Matt Kumin: It's a licensed model. What we found is, when you try to go after content and want to attack this opportunity, it's a real challenge to publish. You're having to deal with a content management system, which for traditional media companies have gone through years and years of challenges. They're very expensive, very people intensive, complicated to integrate. Trying to get that into nontraditional publishers is a challenge. So, we have a licensed model where they can rent our platform, in a sense, and get into this at scale, in a way that they don't have to repeat those past challenges that traditional publishers have had to deal with. More and more, people are using a lighter publishing model, where you might use Wordpress for blogging, but if you want to bring in third party content and ad automation, and want to curate the best tweets and video and articles or around whatever topic your customers are interested in, having a platform that you can license in the SaaS model is very complimentary, and something companies really like.
How did you figure out people needed and wanted this?
Matt Kumin: When I was at Edmunds.com, we were looking at aggregation services. Back then, the proposition was just automating content. What we found, was we were trying to get really specific content that matched up with a much granular level of topics. It wasn't just a keyword for BMW or Mercedes, it was finding content specific to the BMW 3 Series, or Mercedes C Class. We found that aggregation technology was very keyword driven, and relevancy was not that strong. What we've been working on, is a new approach to search, using semantic search, so we're able to get down to much more granularity of relevance. We use the brand, companies, executives, and more to find specific content. It's a whole new search engine, and is a business tool, not for consumers. Then, what we found, was our clients wanted to add their own content on top of that, wanted more controls, and so part of our visoin is that content in search is a combination of both algorithms and people. Our engine has been architected to be in part algorithmic, but also to add the human layer and curators on top of that.
We hear you're behind Rafat Ali's new publication, Skift?
Matt Kumin: So the way we work with them, is it starts at a content strategy level. It's really thinking about content publishing in a new way, in a way that combines original content, licensed content, curated content, and aggregated content into one system, and with one publishing strategy, and takes advantage of all of those capabilities. In the past, companies were just blogging, or just creating content. That's expensive, and takes a lot more people. In this model, you can do this with a handful of resources, who are the curators, using the technology that PublishThis offers. What that gets you is much more comprehensive in terms of coverage and depth. For brands, it lets them add much more added value. With users increasingly scanning short bits of content, it lets our clients add their own value on top of that content, which is fresh, and up to date. That's what Rafat and Skift is doing.
You were a top exec at Edmunds.com -- what made you decide to strike out on your own?
Matt Kumin: I think there were a couple of reasons. One, is we had built up Edmunds in a successful way and had lots of growth there, but I really was interested in starting my own company. I wanted to do something on my own, and build something that was going to last and have real value. I was very interested in where the content space was going. This was about the time that Facebook and Twitter were taking off, and I felt that so much of that content was about consumers, and no one had focused on the business tool side of it, and figured out how to build better website and email newsletter programs and applications. I was really interested in how to apply a different search approach to support that.
Finally, what's the next big thing for you?
Matt Kumin: We're getting ready to launch an all-new version of our platform. That's coming out in the next couple of months. We're in beta now. Right now, we are als omoving not only towards providing relevant content to our customers, but also bringing in more socially relevant content. We're really monitoring the content areas for our customers, in a way that brings that social signal to it. We not only find the most relevant content about a topic, but what is interesting from influencers and which is popular in social, as a better content discovery tool. We're making it simpler to publish that content to any CMS, to any mobile app, to any social platform, really easily. We're providing a much more flexible publishing platform, where you can create different content experience with very little engineering effort.