How SF Anytime are using Popyoular to convert browsers to renters

A couple of weeks ago, our friends at SF Anytime launched brand new versions of their pioneering Scandinavian VOD-sites. It really is a huge makeover that pretty much affects every aspect of the user experience, and we like it. A lot. 

One of the things that SF Anytime are successfully doing is to make the experience much more editorially flavored. You immediately understand that this is a service run by people who love movies themselves. People that are able to bring that across in practical, usable ways that help you find your way to a movie you really want to see.

The new sites use Popyoular on the film presentation pages. Using the automated connection between films and editorial review scores and review quotes, SF Anytime can give users just the kind of relevant, trustworthy information that can turn browsers into renters

For a couple of Swedish examples, how about this presentation of 'Get Low', or perhaps this one of 'The Last King of Scotland'? (scroll down a bit to see our part - or check out the screenshot below)

We're looking forward to working with SF Anytime on more fun, helpful and profitable functionality that harnesses the power of content curation - on a platform scale.

WiMP wins Spotify-showdown in Swedish M3 Magazine

The November edition of Sweden's leading gadget mag M3 features a blow-by-blow showdown between Spotify and WiMP. While it's a close call, WiMP takes home the victory.

Now, if you're in Sweden you should of course run out and buy the magazine (it's worth it), but if you can't we will reveal that it's WiMP's editorial and functional focus on providing guidance and inspiration that ends up swaying the testers.

We're proud to deliver Popyoular to WiMP as a part of that package, and we think it's cool that the Popyoular album-review connection is indeed specifically highlighted and illustrated in the article.

Congratulations to the WiMP-team over at Aspiro Music!

Social Recommendations And The Editorial Connection

The other day I overheard two kids on the bus discussing which movie to see. A guy and a girl, perhaps 18-19 years old. The girl was undecided and didn’t really have any specific ideas. The guy was gently pushing for Fast & Furious 5, without much success at first. “But it got a great review in Metro!” he said. “Really??”. “Yes, a four out of five!”. That seemed to settle the discussion, and – I presume – off to the movies they went.

So apart from illustrating the fact that kids actually read newspapers – on paper no less – and that they take the time to check out the reviews, what’s the point? The point is that a traditional, editorial review was translated into a social recommendation.

That’s how it tends to work when you think about it. When your discussions with friends and co-workers turn to movies, music or books, how often does someone refer to something they’ve read about, heard or seen through some media outlet? “It’s a great book, I read about it in …”, “Oh, you liked it? I saw the review and it seemed really good”, “My girlfriend got that for me, apparently it was on …’s list of unmissable DVD-releases”.

In short, while social recommendations can be based entirely on personal discovery and taste, very often they will channel opinions – filtered or unfiltered – expressed by a tastemaker (or expert if you will) in the media. Sometimes channeled through a single intermediary as in the anecdote above, sometimes by word-of-mouth passing from person to person many times over, radiating to a larger group.

From a Popyoular perspective, this is why we firmly believe in the commercial value of automatically connecting specific content with the relevant editorial reviews. And in the value of making sure your discovery- and conversion tools cover both the social angle and the editorial angle.

Let’s say you run a site that sells DVD’s. Or a VOD-service. In your catalog, you have a number of films that have gotten good reviews. To a bunch of your customers, that fact alone will help sway them to a postive decision for a given film. Now, would you rather hope that your customers have discovered that positive review, either directly or indirectly through friends? Or would you prefer to make positively sure they know about it, right there as a simple, automated feature of your service? And then in turn perhaps see them use your other, social features to tell their friends how they’ve seen a great movie, now perhaps adding that their opinion is shared by a specific, trustworthy source?

Oh, and what about Fast & Furious 5? Did it really get that great review? It sure did.

Hello Home Market! Popyoular live in Sweden

Finally! We’d be lying through our teeth if we didn’t admit we’ve been waiting for this one: We’re live with Popyoular in our home market. Our WiMP-friends have now formally launched in Sweden. The client is very similar to the Norwegian and Danish implementations, but from a Popyoular perspective it does add one cool feature. Check out how certain quotes that meet specific criteria have been automatically selected to be displayed alongside the album title/art:

The WiMP launch has generated a great deal of buzz. All sorts of media and blogs have written about the new kid on the streaming music block. To our great pleasure quite a few of them do specifically refer to the review integration provided by Popyoular as an added product benefit. We’ve also seen a major review (Dagens Nyheter – review not published online) specifically mention the benefit of the discovery functionality provided by the automatically generated album lists powered by Popyoular, even though it in all honesty is a bit hidden in the WiMP-client.

Now, not a single source we’ve seen review WiMP thus far actually mentions us by name or refers to the functionality we provide as a a third party service. Are we all in tears over that? Quite the contrary. The whole point of what we do is that it’s easy to seamlessly embed as a natural part of what you bring to your customers, helping your service shine.


Popyoular on Music Ally’s 2010 Startup List

Digital music industry experts Music Ally wrote about Popyoular in one of their newsletters earlier this fall. We’re not going to hide how excited we got about getting recognition from that kind of expertise.

No wonder, then, that we’re positively ecstatic to find that Popyoular made it onto the list of 2010 discovery startups in Music Ally’s new 15-page report “2010 – Key Trends”. You’re going to need to get a Music Ally subscription to enjoy the full report, but that doesn’t mean you can’t check out our moment in the spotlight right here!


Help Me Spend More In Your Store

(00:24, Dec. 9 - Just updated after another book shopping spree online) I take it as a good sign whenever I find myself really missing a Popyoular integration when I'm using an e-commerce site.

Last night, pre-Christmas online shopping kicked off at my house. My wife and I wrote a list of who we needed to get presents for, and some rough ideas of what to get them. I think there were about 8-10 books on that list. A couple of them were specific titles, but most were not. I just knew I needed books that corresponded to a few criteria. And I knew I wanted them to be good.

Photo by flickr-user pfala

Now, I know there are lots of competent folks out there making a living from (or just having fun) writing book reviews. Which books are they writing about? What are they saying about them? Which ones do they love? That's the kind of stuff Popyoular is built to present in a meaningful, simple, unified way, directly integrated into the storefront.

For the most part, the online bookstores in my region offer me categories plus some combination of what's new (and also expected to sell a lot), what's already selling a lot, and customer reviews. While these are all very helpful, they're not necessarily enough.

If I get someone a current bestseller, they're also going to get it from someone else. Boring, and also really impractical in terms of exchanges as we're getting this stuff online.

Reader reviews are very important and can be extremely helpful, but generally retailers need a critical mass they don't always get in smaller markets for reader reviews to work well. For obvious reasons reader reviews can also lag a little.

Content discovery and purchase decision support comes in many flavors. Chances are your customers need different types of help and inspiration at different times. We believe we offer an important but often missing part of that puzzle. One that results in more sales and happier customers.

[Update] Some of the online bookstores in our region have done a truly admirable editorial sales job putting together Christmas-specific shopping guides with very well thought out selections for different tastes and ages. No wonder we think this is excellent stuff: Editorially driven discovery is at the core of what we do

With Popyoular, we can work across a vast selection of content and cover a significant back-catalog. That means it's a great way to automatically harness the power of editorially guided discovery across a much larger catalog, as a permanent addition to the seasonal and event-focused work done by a great editorial team.

One Week, Three Steps Forward

Being just half a handful of guys in a single room is one of the greatest things about doing what we're doing. Being half a handful of guys is also an obvious constraint, and not necessarily always of the "constraints fuel creativity" kind. This week we got an extra hand on deck, at least part-time. Chinese KTH master's student XiaXi Li is joining us as an extra development resource. Our to-do list is bursting at the seams, and XiaXi couldn't be more welcome. In other news, we're just about done with all the formalities necessary to set up Popyoular as a separate company called, somewhat unsuprisingly, Popyoular AB. The new company will be 100% dedicated to Popyoular. From now on, Substrata will be a pure consulting operation for Magnus and Jørgen. A new site reflecting this, changes to the location of API-docs, Popyoular product information etc is coming up. Last but clearly not least, this week saw us featured in the subscription-only bulletin from the digital music industry experts over at Music Ally. We're pretty certain that's about as good as it gets in terms of readership relevance and source credibility when it comes to spreading the word on what we're trying to achieve with Popyoular. Made our week, if not our whole month!

API-docs now open, better organized

We've just removed the password protection from the API-description section. It's been a good six months since the first partner implementation of our API went live. The Popyoular platform is definitely mature enough for us to forget any reservations we had about openly sharing the documentation. We've also take the opportunity to divide what used to be a really long single page into more bite-sized chunks. Clearly an improvement even if it's simple stuff, but look out for a more formal documentation style at a later stage. (Oh, and that 100.000-reviews post is coming, promise - we're at about 90.000 now)

WiMP Adds New Toplist Discovery Features

Our friends over at Aspiro Music just released a major upgrade to their streaming music service WiMP, and made us very happy in the process. In addition to stuff like Facebook integration, WiMP now features easily browsable album lists based directly on review data from Popyoular.The WiMP-guys have used the built in toplist functionality in Popyoular to create a number of review-based lists from different perspectives: Some focus on time, like the list showing the best scoring albums of the past month. Others focus on a specific source, like the one showing the best reviewed albums from Pitchfork. For WiMP, this is a simple way to expand their arsenal of quality focused, editorially driven recommendation tools. For us, it's a great example of how the Popyoular platform can help businesses create new ways for their customers to discover more great content. It's also a perfect showcase for how Popyoular lets any site or service easily tap into the power of human content curation in a large-scale, systematic way.

Popyoular flies by the 60.000-review mark

Photo by Flickr-user brownwren

OK, we admit it. We don't have a huge digital counter on the wall constantly updated with the number of reviews the Popyoular platform makes easily available. In fact, the only thing we have on the wall is a tiny whiteboard suspended from a wire (!). But if we did have a counter, it would now be showing just over 60.000. That's 60.000 album reviews, from sources in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the US and the UK. The pace of of new reviews being added to the platform is picking up rapidly now for a number of reasons. In particular, the addition of more English language sources will keep us on the fast track towards a six-digit figure. 

WiMP adds quotes for Popyoular review links

We've been looking forward to a public showcase for our frankly quite excellent Popyoular review quotes. Today, the good folks at Aspiro Musikk updated WiMP to version, and lo and behold: Little speech bubbles that trigger a hovering quote on mouseover. Click to view full size:Got WiMP on your machine? Open the Goldfrapp example above in WiMP [NO | SE] and check it out live. It's subtly presented, but adds so much for the end-user. We're also convinced that sources will see increased traffic thanks to the interest generated by quotes highlighting an insightful, provoking or funny review. Quotes are available for a rapidly increasing selection of reviews. What do you think? Please let us know in the comments below.

Our opinion on opinions

There are lots of services built on the concept of accumulating opinions and reviews, globally as well as locally in our region. Many of them do really well, generate massive traffic and cover a vast number of individual products with great accuracy. In short, they do a great job and provide a really valuable service.

What most of these services have in common is a primary focus on tangible products, be they LCD-TV's, dishwashers, DSLR's or fully automatic espresso machines. Products that cost a significant amount of money. Stuff you'll keep for a while, perhaps years. You'd hate to make the wrong choice.

Thus you spend lots of time doing research. You prefer to get as close to the objective truth as possible. With a bewildering array of sources, you thank your lucky stars for trusted review sites, whether they accumulate professional reviews, user reviews or both. Once you've made your decision and your purchase, you move on. When your next paycheck arrives, you'll be back, researching something else. No need to ponder the demonstrated need for these services! So where's Popyoular in this picture?

First of all, we deal with stuff that costs relatively little. Music, films, books... Increasingly, it costs nothing at all. "Consuming" another album in a streaming music service isn't going to cost you anything. Buying one is only going to set you back the cost of two or three lattes. A pocket book is even less. No big deal. Your focus isn't on avoiding bad purchases from a monetary perspective, it's on the experience itself. Will I like this? Would I be wasting my time? Is there something I'm not aware of that I'm missing?

Secondly, to the vast majority of the folks Popyoular aims to address, their interest in our subject matter is deeply rooted. It's permanent, and to some even something they see as an expression of who they are. Their interest in music isn't something that pops up only when they decide to actually buy an album. They'll get excited about a great movie in a lunchtime discussion any day of the week.

Thirdly, there is no objective truth, only subjective opinions that can be expressed in ways that can be more or less useful to the reader. And importantly, "useful" can also mean entertaining, thoughtful, provocative or any number of other adjectives.

For someone who has a permanent interest in the subject matter, reviews and opinions are valuable in and of themselves. Now, there are certainly cases where this is true for physical product reviews as well. Ask anyone who's read Jeremy Clarkson's car tests. It's just a lot less common.

That in turn leads to our fourth point: Trust is bestowed upon sources and reviewers of pop culture (or not so pop culture) in very different ways than what is the case for objective product reviews. It could be about certain reviewers and their status as taste leaders, it could be about a publication that consistently offers a certain angle you like or dislike, and obviously, it could be about user reviews where any number of parameters can decide whether you trust that person to guide you or not.

It could also, as above, be the perceived qualities of the review itself. We firmly believe that these differences are real. We also firmly believe that they have some important implications.

One is focus. We think we can do a better job building a service for folks interested in the kind of content we address if that's all we do.

Another is identity and trustworthiness. If Popyoular isn't associated with fridges or GPS's, our view is that it will be easier to build a platform for the exchange of opinions about our particular kind of subject matter: Stuff that's cheap, even free. But still life changingely important :)

The New Office: Unusual *and* Practical

Today we started moving into our new office. It's basically a big room constructed inside an old store. A huge, sound proof, sliding glass door separates us from the good folks we're sharing with. So we get all of the light from the store front windows, while keeping the privacy of a room with a door. We've never seen anything quite like this. Unusual yet very practical - what's not to like? [googlemaps,+Stockholm+urban+area,+Sweden&sll=43.432468,6.73518&sspn=0.267764,0.503311&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=H%C3%A4lsingegatan+12,+Stockholm+urban+area,+Stockholm,+Sweden&z=15&ll=59.344179,18.041249&output=embed&w=425&h=350]

Johnny Cederlund Joins Substrata

We're really happy to announce that Johnny Cederlund is joining us to head up the sales efforts for Popyoular. For us, this is great news following our succesful WiMP-integration and the fact that the Popyoular API is now 100% production ready. With Johnny we get a decade and a half of sales experience from software industry giants like Oracle, IBM and BEA Systems, as well as from search experts Autonomy and most recently FAST. But we also get someone who's explicitly interested in applying his knowledge, skills and experience in a very, very different setting. We're really happy to have Johnny on board, and we're sure he's going to help us build professional partner relations.

Introducing Popyoular

Ta-da! Today we're letting the cat out of the bag. Or at least we're letting it have a peek at the world outside.

As of last night, the brilliant Norwegian streaming music application Wimp (still in closed beta) implemented parts of the functionality we have been working on. That means that the project that we used to call Operation Omar is now officially Popyoular, a platform for opinions about music and more.

With Popyoular we're aiming to bridge the gap between where people buy and consume content, where they read reviews and discover new music, and where they express their own opinions.

Popyoular can be used to build content discovery mechanisms, to provide more context around the stuff you sell or stream, or to give your customers a better way express themselves. More on Popyoular here.

Popyoular is primarily an enabler meant to be integrated painlessly in other sites and services. That's why we've spent so much time polishing our API. Still, we're going to do our best to build a really, really nice service for end-users too.

More on all this soon - we need to get back to work! In the meantime, a huge tip of the hat to our friends at Aspiro Musikk for entrusting us with their cool application as a proving ground for a new service.

First version of the API signed, sealed and delivered

We now have a fully functional, first version of the API for Popyoular, our content discovery platform. This is a huge milestone for us. Our pilot integration partner has received the necessary documentation and credentials. With a little luck, they'll be able to put our stuff to the test in the not too distant future. The API-documentation is currently password protected, but available right here in the menu to the right. If you're interested, do get in touch

With the first version of the API out the door, lots of other milestones are getting a great deal closer. We've got a name. We've got the necessary domains. We're clear on what will be available through our own public service, and how we're going present it in a first version. We even have a logo, and we're getting to the point where we're spending time on stuff like short, descriptive texts and FAQ's.

We really look forward to talking about this stuff openly and in detail. Hopefully, we'll reach the stage where we're comfortable with that any time now. In the meantime, we'll keep on working to get the platform out there in the wild - soon. Popyoular announcement made, no need to be all secretive anymore!

MapReduce to the rescue - thank you Hadoop

The music metadata matching we do as part of Operation Omar the Popyoular platform includes a couple of stages that involve some heavy data lifting. One of these requires us to import data from more than one source about a huge number of individual items. We need to perform a few crucial operations on each single item while importing the data. We tried a few different approaches, but ended up frustrated by the sheer time a complete import would take. With the number of items in the millions, super fast crunching can only do so much as long as we're dealing with a single queue.

While these complete imports don't need to be repeated very often at all, we still found the time involved unacceptable. The consequences of any mistakes or the need for adjustments would be far too damaging to our overall progress.

This problem was practically begging us to have a closer look at MapReduce and Hadoop. What we had was a massive number of similarly structured items on which we needed to perform the same basic operations. The ability to distribute the work and have it done in parallel seemed perfect. And it was. After implementing a solution using Hadoop we went from measuring the time it takes to do a full import from days to minutes. Wow!

Raw MapReduce is sometimes, admittedly, hard to wrap your head around being quite the low-level framework that it is.  Our data crunching described here was actually implemented using the Cascading Framework. Cascading is a library that sits on top of Hadoop and lets you define your distributed processes on a higher level and without having to "think in MapReduce".

Adventures in Music Metadata

One of our design goals for Operation Omar Popyoular is to ensure that our core data about individual content items (such as an album) is as correct as possible. Another design goal is to to attempt to enrich that core data with as much useful metadata as possible in order to enable additional functionality. As it turns out, these steps aren't exactly trivial. But they can produce unexpected opportunities, as we've just discovered. One tricky aspect of music metadata is how to correctly establish a release date for an album. Looking around at various types of music services you'll quickly see how a famous record from, say, 1973 will be listed as a release from, say, 1998. That would be the year of that particular release of that album.

This makes perfect sense to record companies. It makes very little sense to most consumers, and generally screws up simple yet important things like viewing a list of albums chronologically.

As it turns out, we've managed to do a pretty good job of resolving the release date/year commonly associated with a given album. And as it turns out, solving this particular challenge is important to the service which most likely will support us with a pilot implementation of Operation Omar Popyoular. So we isolated this particular task and pre-delivered a large number corrected release dates, with more to come.

As a new venture, we expected our business to change in unexpected ways along the way. This particular side effect was a pleasant one. We now know that our platform can work really well for pure metadata tasks, not just as a full-blown content discovery mechanism. We hope that means we can put it to work for a larger set of services with similar challenges.

Every operation needs a cool name

Our Secret Project (not anymore :) needs a temporary name while we're trying to figure out what to call the final service. We're going for "Operation Omar". It sounds cool. And it's named after Omar Little, one of our favorite characters on The Wire. Omar doesn't have the most obvious connection to us or our project. He's a gay African-American gangster making a living by holding up drug dealers in the slums of Baltimore. However, he's also completely fearless, fundamentally righteous, nice to his grandmother, and has carved out a nice niche outside the existing power structures. Plus he looks cool with his shotgun hidden under his trenchcoat. Hell, we just like the man. (Fictional or not)