These days it seems everyone’s blogging. Combine this newest source of information with more traditional online news sources, and you could spend your whole day slogging through lists of bookmarked Web pages just to keep up. Rojo Networks is one of the latest of a bevy of startups trying to help Web users make better sense of this content explosion. The year-and-a-half-old startup’s approach is to help users home in on the most relevant and interesting news and blogs by finding out what others in their online social networks are reading.
Rojo exploits a recent and growing phenomenon called RSS, for Really Simple Syndication. With RSS, an online publisher can format content so that users can extract and display it, along with content from other publishers, using “RSS aggregators.” These personalized websites and dedicated reader programs let users view all the RSS “feeds” they subscribe to – complete with headlines, summaries, and links to original content – in one location.
San Francisco’s Rojo is one of dozens of RSS aggregator companies. Like some of its competitors, Rojo has an RSS feed search function and gives readers the ability to flag stories they find important or interesting. But in enabling users to draw on the insights of friends, family, colleagues, and others in their social networks, Rojo departs from most of the competition. Rojo users can invite others to sign up for Rojo accounts; those accounts are linked, much like the accounts on the popular website Friendster. Rojo users can see what RSS feeds the members of their networks are reading and which stories they are flagging. Network popularity also affects the ranking of results when the user searches RSS feeds. “We all depend on our community for content discovery,” says Chris Alden, Rojo’s cofounder and CEO. “Any successful media service has to tap into that.” [Disclosure: Technology Review’s editor in chief worked for Alden when he was CEO of Red Herring.]
As of press time, a limited number of invited users were testing Rojo’s website, which was launched in October. The startup also hopes to strike deals with content providers to let them add RSS aggregation, search, and sharing to their own websites. Rojo closed its second round of venture capital financing in November.
Alden says Rojo is the first company to combine RSS aggregation with social networking, but it probably won’t be the last. Rojo is one of a growing number of companies turning social networks into a tool for better managing and sharing online content. Of course, the makers of longer-standing RSS aggregators like Bloglines predictably point out that Rojo is missing a lot of features that their own services provide and charge that Rojo’s website isn’t easy or intuitive to use.
The company will have to deal with more fundamental questions, like whether people will build social networks at Rojo just to help them sort through RSS feeds, when they probably already maintain networks at places like Friendster. If not, Rojo will have to rely on partnerships with other websites, the approach taken by Eurekster, also out of San Francisco. Eurekster provides Friendster and other social-networking sites with a search engine that uses network data to improve the relevance of Web search results. “We be-lieve people aren’t going to want to invite their friends to all these different [social-networking sites],” says Grant Ryan, Eurekster’s president and chairman. Since existing sites are consistently adding new services and features – and RSS sharing is one attractive candidate – Rojo may be better off working with them instead of trying to create its own site.