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alltop.com – behind the logic

Tweet So yesterday I had an interesting day. It started out with a Tweet and email from Guy Kawasaki introducing his new www.alltop.com website. Now strictly speaking alltop.com is not new, it has existed as a collection of topics like mac.alltop.com for a while now. So what was Guy on about? Well the team behind [...]

So yesterday I had an interesting day. It started out with a Tweet and email from Guy Kawasaki introducing his new www.alltop.com website. Now strictly speaking alltop.com is not new, it has existed as a collection of topics like mac.alltop.com for a while now.

So what was Guy on about? Well the team behind alltop.com had created a new frontend that unites the seperate collections together into one easy place to find data.

Simple enough right? Well … no, I in my usual fashion I mentioned something about how I felt the site was flawed. It wasn’t as user friendly and certainly wasn’t giving the results expected. So low and behold I got into a little of a … shall we say ‘discussion’ with Guy via Twitter, Techcrunch and finally via email (which is probably where it should have started and stopped).

Lesson One: pick the right medium to discuss with someone (doesn’t matter who it is) their website

So, what is alltop?

In Guy’s own words:

Alltop is a directory to source news not a search engine of source news

Okay that makes perfect sense right? I can stop writing now? Hmm no. See this is still not really what the average punter is going to understand – can you explain that to your mum?

So I tried to do a search on alltop, I wanted to find Mac news (or feeds, as alltop.com is at it’s base a feed aggregator). I performed this search and my results were not what I expected.

Example of alltop.com search results for mac

Example of alltop.com search results for "mac"

Scanning through this I saw nothing that screamed out “Mac stuff .. in here“. I wasn’t looking for iPhone stuff, nor Mobile, Tech or Podcasts and certainly not Windows. I’m not sure what MacIntosh (Steve) is. I’m looking for Apple Mac items.

So I talked to Guy about this, and he explained it this way (NOTE: I wanted to sketch this cartoon style, but 1) I can’t draw and 2) I can’t draw – well okay I can but I’m lazy this morning – sorry Guy).

Explaining Alltop – Borders style

You walk into your local Borders (or other book store). The clerk says “Hi”, you grunt and say, “I’m looking for Magazines all about Mac’s”.

Im looking for Mac magazines

I'm looking for Mac magazines

Now at this point IF the clerk was Google, he (or she) would reply “Well MacWorld has an article on the new iPod Nano and Byte has an article on programming for OS X Carbon while MacUser has some tips for getting more out of photoshop on the Mac”.

alltop.com doesn’t do this, instead the clerk provides you with the racks of magazines, showing you where the Mac type magazines live.

Information is stored in racks - like magazine racks

Information is stored in racks - like magazine racks

(Note: the pic above is from the matrix if you hadn’t guessed, with racks of stuff flying in to surround you and the store clerk)

You are told this rack has Mac stuff in it. And the clerk wanders off to help someone else. It’s up to you to scan the results and find what it is you are looking for.

Does this work?

Here is where I am torn. On one hand sure the metaphor works … in a bookstore, but I’m not sure it works online. Or should I say, here is where the naming of your “racks” needs to be clear.

For example: alltop.com have a rack of magazines called Windows, where you find various magazines with a Windows theme. Likewise you have a rack called Linux with as you’d expect Linux magazines. Sadly the Mac/Apple rack is called MacIntosh (Steve) and yes this is a joke (try searching for jobs).

Categories need to reflect the general understanding of what a topic is called. Guy mentioned last night “For those who don’t get the joke, we are willing to loose them” – which he might well be, but if you are building something – make sure you name your categories, or racks, or sections, to something that has relevance to your target audience.

Summary

Once I get past the search not being a real search – in that it doesn’t search it simply tells you where to look, and once I get past the MacIntosh (Steve) thing, I do think that alltop.com is onto something. I do think it’s the sort of site my Mother (who is a school teacher) would go to and say, “Hmm I need science stuff” and alltop.com is going to say “Great, here is a collection of science related feeds for you to browse and select from”.

Will it miss things out? Yes, as Guy admited, if you are looking for Mac magazines and Byte (which is in Programming) has an article on OS X Carbon development, you are not going to find it in the Mac section – but then, you probably where looking for Programming anyway.

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5 Responses

09.24.08

“For those who don’t get the joke, we are willing to loose them”..

I just don’t see how any new website can afford to have an attitude like this. Especially one site such as this which is really for lamers/newbies that have no clue. Anyone with any amount of technical ability/knowledge would leverage a simple rss feed reader to achieve the same functionality as alltop, and be afforded the luxury of reading on his/her own time.

There is a market for sites like this, but to have the opinion that if you’re not educated enough to get the joke, then F U, is just dumb. You’re supposedly trying to make it easier to find information, yet you “encrypt it” so the common layman would have no clue.

I use alltop to discover new feeds I otherwise may not have been familiar with in certain topics, but then I simply add that feed to my own reader.

There needs to be a change from categorization to tags in order for this UI to ever make sense. I can never find what I want.. for instance, try searching for “investments”, “stocks” and “mutual funds”. You get back different categories. A joke.

09.24.08

I think you’ve missed the point of Alltop. It exists to provide declutterization (yes, that’s a new word) and instant gratification. For example, say I want to find a list of blogs about design. I could go to google and type in: blogs about design. Then, I could wade through the 211,000,000 search results clicking on link after link, slowly collecting a decent list of blogs about design.

OR

I could go to Alltop.com and search for “blogs about design” and BAM, I’m greeted with not only a great list of blogs about design, but the 5 most recent posts on each blog. EUREKA! Now that’s easy. But you are right, you cannot search for just ANYTHING and expect to be greeted with highly targeted, search-engine precise results, because, frankly, that’s not what it’s meant for. And yes, you have to know what Alltop is to use it. But people somehow figured out Google.

09.24.08

But if I do a search for “diapers”, shouldn’t Alltop at least bring up the links to “parenting” and “moms” topics? I get a “no topics found”. If I search for “london”, I get “no topics found” — shouldn’t it at least throw up the “Travel” topic?

There is nothing to “figure out” with Google — type stuff in, get stuff back. You probably have to go pretty far back in time for Google to have returned a “no results found” message. So it’s not about searching for ANYTHING and getting highly targeted results, it’s about searching for ANYTHING and getting no results at all. Good luck with that.

09.24.08

Actually, if you search on “blogs about design” on alltop you get zero results.

Search for “design” and you get:
3D
Design
Fashion
Innovation
Shopping
User Interface

So I’d say the search engine could be improved somewhat. And it would be handy if the Alltopic descriptions were visible on hover — right now they are hidden, forced “display:none” via CSS on FF3.0.

09.24.08

“Mac” is short for “Macintosh”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macintosh if you didn’t know already. I think each category should come with a little description underneath it, and the “Mac” category could be called “Mac” with the description “News feeds about the Apple Macintosh” or something similar.

On top of that I agree with Johnboy in that the search engine should be improved and should return more results for more searches. Considering the low amount of hits you’re ever going to get on the site, you don’t really need “and” searches, “or” would suffice. If anything, you could weigh “and” results higher than “or”, but at least show them all. Most categories needs more keywords associated with them too, so they are found on more searches. I guess this is an area that needs constant improvement.

When it comes to the metaphor and the whole idea of not returning results and instead bookshelves (or categories), I think it works very well. If what you want is Google, then why don’t use Google?

An interesting improvement they could implement is to start indexing the feed items they link to and make the categories the are within searchable for whatever words are indexed. So say you have a feed inside the “Macintosh” category with an entry about “The Brick”, then searching for “The Brick” would turn up the “Macintosh” category as a result.