All good things come to an end. So far, in two previous installments (found here and here), I’ve typed over 4000 words about how interesting StormDriver is. I don’t think I can do much more to convince you, until of course you are able to get your hands on the internal alpha version. But there are still some last things I want to iron out.
As you can see from our last two previews, the scope of this system is huge. So huge in fact, we had lost several programmers in the endless pages of code, never to be found again. Our devs are mostly a special kind of people, that can recite the phonebook they’ve seen five years ago. Or at least they wish they could.
You see, StormDriver contains lots of functions that could very well become separate applications. Time and time again, we’ve seen startups that were trying to do just one of the things we decided to include in our system. Some of them were larger than our team. Just to give you a fresh example from the top of my head: not so long ago, trap.it beta appeared – it’s an adaptive and intelligent newsreader. Our news section also uses AI and semantic analysis, it’s also learning your habits (and it has way more data to learn from than what trap.it guys get). The thing is, the reader is only a small part. We have many more modules of similar complexity.
Of course, it would be easier to launch a bare-bones alpha and add the things as we go, but it’s not always possible in our case. The learning news finder I told you about connects to the user votes database, that connects to the map of topical website relations, that connects to user profiles and histories, that connects to users credibility, that connects to shared pages, that connect to the proxy backbone. Everything is tightly interwoven, and that’s probably the most exciting – and hardest – thing about StormDriver.
During the development we were often confused by how connected everything became – a small change in user ranking could affect dozens of other non-obvious things. Time and time again we’ve seen teams ten times our size launch applications five times less complex.
But now, we’re almost there. Most of the system works as planned, and even though it still needs some fine-tuning and polish, we want to hear your opinions, before we go into beta stages. It’s one of the last moments to register for our closed alpha, because as soon as it lands, we’ll set up a restrictive queue system. Getting into Stormdriver tests will never be as simple as now, when you only have to type in your email and click one button.
So go ahead, do it now. This app is so unusual, you should at least give it a try.
But enough of that. Let’s get back to the what you’re probably waiting for – another trip into the depths of StormDriver.
“Rocks” and “Sucks”
While describing all the options of StormDriver, I omitted the most basic thing – user votes. We always wanted to build a web layer filtered out by users, so we had to incorporate some kind of feedback mechanism. We wanted you to recommend the content you might like to your friends, and to profit from their recommendations.
Seems simple enough, right? Nothing a single button, for example “+1” or “like” couldn’t solve? In short: no.
We wanted to give more power to everyone. We know the philosophy behind Facebook’s resistance to dislike, and we know why Google wants everyone only to +1 everything, like a bunch of gullible yes-men. We strongly disagree. We feel that if someone wants to voice a negative opinion, he should be able to do so.
Imagine, if you could only see 500,000 likes that original “Friday” video received on Youtube, would it tell the whole story? Would it be as informative as seeing 500,000 likes and almost 3 million dislikes? Of course not. That’s why StormDriver gives you two options. You can shout to your fellow users that something “Rocks”, or say it “Sucks”.
That’s not all, though. We always felt there should be more to voting than a simple thumb up or thumb down. That’s why we also provide users with ability to express their emotions. There is a small dropdown next to the vote. It allows you to tell everyone WHY do you think this page rocks (or sucks), to show how it made you feel. You can say it was interesting, or fresh, or simply hilarious.
Just imagine how many possibilities it opens up! After some time spent with the system, our adaptive algorithms will know what’s your sense of humor, what makes you happy, and what makes you angry. We can choose content that will accurately match your tastes (Surf), and we can select users who seem to display the same reactions as you (Mingle).
Not to mention, the extended vote system coupled with a keyword mechanism make it easy for us to employ very narrow and accurate content filters. Do you want to look for websites about music that made users from Wales both shocked and proud? Everything’s possible!
Hypertext links are still a skeleton of today’s web. They shaped the Internet as we know it, connecting pages together into what we call a World Wide Web. They are simple, effective, we click them all the time and we stopped even noticing them. Our StormDriver team always believed that there could be more to connecting information, than just an anchor text that sends you on your way to some other page. Just think of all the things that URL’s don’t do – they don’t show the quality of the connection, or the relevance between linked pages.
That’s why in Open Web Layer we’ve added another form of connections between pages. They are called relations. Through them, every page within in our system connects to pages about similar topic, or pages linked in any way users feel important. For example, a movie page on IMDB can be related to Wikipedia entries about actors and director, it can be also related to review sites such as Rotten Tomatoes, as well as the official movie website and a popular fan forum. All of those “highways” are scored and ranked. We can measure how many people walked through them every day, how much they liked (or disliked) whatever they found waiting at the end, and how relevant it was to the original page. Some of those relation chains are just narrow, winding roads. Some of them become data autobahns, connecting famous Internet landmarks.
That way, StormDriver builds an alternative map of the whole web, where pages are not only connected by link structure that webmasters puts in place. They are connected by what the users think is actually relevant.
Think about it for a second. By clicking pages from “related content” box, you can surf through a particular topic with a speed of light – and every relation you get is brought to you by the collective intelligence and aggregated history of thousands of users. It’s a power no one else can give you.
Relations might not be flashy, and they are certainly not very visible, working under the hood most of the time. But they are a backbone of our system, they make everything tick. This incredible macrocosm, this alternate web shaped by users, is one thing that sets us apart from everyone else.
But relation maps are far from the best thing we have in StormDriver. This title should arguably go to the next function I’m going to write about. It’s so cool, I decided to leave it out until the very end of our three part preview.
I’m talking about…
The pages you see in StormDriver, the pages we include in our Open Web Layer, are not only the ones suggested or visited by users. We always wanted to have a way to add fresh content automatically, so that important events are covered as soon as possible. That’s why we also tap into dozens of quality feeds. Those feeds, together with pages coming from our users, create a gushing stream of data, that would make your browser (and your head) explode in seconds. That’s why our semantic and ranking algorithms drop their nets into this stream, in order to pick the best recommendations for our users.
They are smart. They are learning over time. But we always believed in human touch, and in giving power to users, not to page ranking robots. That’s why we made our “fishing nets” fully customizable. You can create your own keyword filter, that will take in hundreds of headlines per minute, in order to give you a good-quality, small stream. containing exactly the sort of things you were looking for. We call those customized news lists our “Open Streams”.
You can have as many of them as you wish. Think of them as of channels on your TV, with one key difference – only your imagination limits how many channels you have. You might create a general games stream defined by keywords “games, gaming, pc, xbox360, ps3, wii”, or a more niche stream, based on “motorcycle base jumping, adrenaline, base jump, extreme sports, motors”. You can name those streams and set them up in your Open Streams panel.
And the best thing is, just like we allow users to become “founding fathers” of a websites or relations they add, we also allow them to create (and own) any number of Open Streams. We never allow duplicate streams, so if you punch in the same keyword filter as someone else created before, you are asked if you want to subscribe to his stream. And people, in turn, can subscribe to yours. We want to encourage and reward users who build heavy, custom filters (for example a stream called “Resources for Dutch folk musicians”, or “News about Artificial Intelligence”). If you’re a good Stream designer, you will increase the exposure of your name and your profile by a lot!
And if you don’t feel like creating own channels, there’s always a nice set of premade ones, and a list of “hot webstreams”, that you can subscribe to, usually covering the latest and most talked-about topics in the whole web.
In short, there’s no better way to deal with the incredible information overload you suffer in today’s web, than by using StormDriver’s streams. They offer you everything you need, on a single page, packed into topics defined by you. Google skills might still come in handy, but our tireless adaptive algorithms should do the dirty day-to-day work for you!
And that’s it, dear readers. Our three part preview comes to a conclusion. Currently, we’re busy ironing out the last kinks in the system, applying layouts, planning things we want to add and improve in the future. We really hope you will enjoy the upcoming internal alpha, as the more of you join, the better our system will become. Its learning capabilities, the scope of its relation maps, a number of available Open Streams and page recommendations – it all depends on a number of people who will join us at launch. Even though we feel that current alpha test list is satisfactory, you can help everyone have a better experience by spreading the word and inviting anyone who could be interested in test-driving this ambitious app.
Do it before press releases and official previews hit the web, and you might be remembered as one of the brave pioneers of a new and revolutionary network. If you want to try something new, you’re in the right place. Sign up, and the worst that can happen, is that you’ll simply have a couple of hours of good plain fun.
Our Open Web Layer is waiting for you.