Last Tuesday, I mentioned SkyGrid, the super-fast, relevance- and source-weighted financial news service that is slowly being opened to the public. I was given a private beta invite and have been playing with the service over the weekend. I might as well get right to the point: SkyGrid rocks! I firmly believe that SkyGrid is the future of news delivery on the Web.
If you want some background on the service straight from SkyGrid, Robert Scoble interviewed Kevin Pomplun, SkyGrid’s 26-year-old CEO and you can check it out here. You will be treated to a 45-minute discussion and demo offering a taste of how SkyGrid works, what SkyGrid can do, and where Skygrid is going. Or you can get Techcrunch’s short take here. In the Studio, I offer my own, personal impressions of the service from the perspective of a “some-what-tech-savvy, business-and-legal-oriented, but-definitely-not uber-geek” user. In other words, the view from the average.
One might think that a financial news site offering up-to-the-minute weighted and guaged business news by sector, industry, company size and other variables might be a bit daunting to interact with. Not so! The screens are streamlined and intuitive, with easy-to-read text, graphics, and prompts. Simple to understand and to use out of the box. And the news is ever-so fast!
When I sign in, I am greeted with the Front Page, which looks like this:
There is a search box at the top into which you can enter a company name and/or ticker symbol. It supplies predictive text answers, which narrow as you type. If you select a company, you get all the news about that company from SkyGrid’s sources, which can be further filtered by size of story, time, or “sentiment” – positive treatment (green), negative treatment (red) or neutral treatment (gray).
The screen you are looking at does not show the actual stories, per se, but instead lists “clusters” of stories relating to the displayed headlined topic. The number to the left of the headlined topic shows how many different related stories are clustered within. If you click on a headlined topic, a window and tab open showing all of the stories in that cluster. If you click on a particular story heading, you are taken to the actual news story in a separate browser tab. And if you leave open the cluster tab in SkyGrid, it will be updated automatically as news breaks. News from the 100 top news outlets, rated by traffic, show in orange and news from elsewhere on the Web, such as blogs, regional news outlets, SEC filings and even reputable sources on Twitter, show in blue. All stories are from publicly available sources.
You can actively filter your news in other ways as well. In the left side column are various buttons for portfolios, likes and shared items (yes, you can “like” news stories and share them via Twitter, FriendFeed and email), news sources, and time range.
As you select stocks in the search box or as you click on the portfolios or sectors along the left side of the screen, the news stories in the main box change to reflect your selection. The company name is shown in the number box at the bottom colored either red, green or gray based on the tenor of the story. Essentially, with a glance at the news window, you can see if a stock or portfolio is trending up or down by color of company name and if the news is coming from a major or lesser source by the color of the story title. This simple graphic prompt speeds up the absorption of information by an exponential factor.
You can create your own custom portfolios, such as stocks you are personally invested in or companies that you are interested in following. You can select sectors by clicking on the categories provided, which break down further into subcategories. This is a great feature for lawyers or any business person looking to keep track of industry sectors or specific companies for transactional, litigation, and buxiness development purposes.
How does SkyGrid do it? According to Pomplun, 99.9% of the collection and treatment is done by algorithm, with a little bit of human input from a managing editor on the Front Page. Even the sentiment filtering is done by algorithm and looks at syntax and linguistics, analyzing 30 (or more) different characteristics in the stories crawled. Sounds strangely semantic to me.
SkyGrid is still a fairly small company, with less than 30 employees, but it is looking to grow in both size and features. Although commenters are comparing SkyGrid to Google News, Twitter and Friendfeed – most likely due to its real-time aspect – SkyGrid’s true competitor seems to be the paid service Bloomberg Terminal. Pomplun is careful to explain that the SkyGrid service is looking to be a complimentary participant in the Web ecosystem, working in partnership with other news providers, rather than in competition. Pomplun is quick to point out that Bloomberg offers hundreds of different apps, while SkyGrid is zoning in on a narrower bandwith: the mining of trusted news sources for relevant content and filtering the content so that it is easy for users to quickly ascertain positive or negative trends. While this might delay the “real-time” aspect by seconds, the true value-add is SkyGrid’s algorithmic editorial overlay and the assurance that a source is reliable. And Scoble reports that SkyGrid still beats his other “real-time” sources in the speed department, by as much as 20 minutes on top news stories.
When is SkyGrid going mobile? That thought crossed my mind, since so much of the Web’s “cutting edge” is honed-in on the mobile front. Pomplun stated in his interview that SkyGrid is sensitive to this interest and is looking at what it can provide. But there is a slight problem for iPhone users: the website is flash-based and there is that infamous limitation in the current iteration of the iPhone regarding flash. At this point, we can only hope that SkyGrid and Apple can figure out a way to make this amazing service iPhone-friendly.
What will SkyGrid cost? My favorite number: free. SkyGrid has been a paid service up to now, costing $6,000 per user per year. Going forward, SkyGrid will make its money from advertising dollars and will partner with companies that SkyGrid feels will be of value to its members.
I know you are now asking: “When can I get in on the action?” SkyGrid is slowly opening up to new members by passing limited invitations out through existing members or directly from SkyGrid itself. Pomplun advises that the decision to open SkyGrid up to the broader audience will depend entirely on current user feedback. In other words, SkyGrid wants to collect all suggestions for improvements from its current members and review all possible service angles so that it can respond and ensure that current members are fully satisified with the product. How customer-service-oriented is that? There is a button on the right-hand side inviting feedback and a box offering tips from SkyGrid on how to better use the service. And I have to add that my personal dealings with the SkyGrid team during the process of requesting an invitation and getting connected were very positive and gave me ample assurance that SkyGrid’s development is in great hands.
You can apply for an invitation here. I highly recommend applying for an invite – anyone interested in business or financial news or simply fascinated with the future of semantic content delivery on the Web will find SkyGrid at the top of the game.