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Felix Salmon’s brain, Drudged: Meet Counterparties, a personal linkblog with Reuters branding

Reuters journos Felix Salmon and Ryan McCarthy create a “Buzzfeed for finance” that’s part of, and separate from, the newswire behemoth.

What would a “Buzzfeed for finance” look like?

Felix Salmon and Ryan McCarthy are figuring it out — via Counterparties, the site they launched this afternoon. The site is essentially a linkblog for financial news and commentary, offering a curated look at the moment’s big stories. Go to the site right now, and you’ll see a mix of headlines and tags linked to original sources: a Guardian story headlined “James Murdoch reportedly knew of explosive phone-hacking email” and tagged “Implausible Deniability”; a Bloomberg story headlined “A 2,800-employee factory in India produces nothing and no one can be fired” and tagged “Regulations”; a Reuters story headlined “Obama pulls anti-smog plan after businesses complain it’ll be too expensive” and tagged “Hope/Change/Etc.”

Other tags currently include “EU MESS,” “MEDIA,” “HORSE TRADING,” “PROFILES,” “OXPECKERS,” “STRAW MEN,” “IT’S ACADEMIC,” “GREAT HEADLINES,” “AWFUL,” and “AWESOME.”

Counterparties — the name celebrates the site’s ties to the financial world — is “an experiment,” Salmon and McCarthy note in a site intro. “What would a news website look like if it didn’t need to promote its own content, and just linked to the best stories and posts, regardless of source? We believe that the best way to get people to come back is to send them away: click on a headline, go straight to another site, and see for yourself.”

“It’s tags, it’s voice, and it’s my dream of just being completely source-agnostic, just linking out,” Salmon told me. It’s exploring what voice sounds like in the service of one of the purest forms of information out there: the link. “This is, I believe,” he says, “the first mainstream/legacy media website which is just external links.”

I believe he is right. And that makes Counterparties not just an experiment, but also a hint, if a small one, at the trajectory of wire agencies as they evolve from straight-up “content providers” into…something else. The past few years have seen the AP experimenting with “accountability journalism.” They’ve seen Reuters itself expanding into investigative reporting and commentary and video, news-y and opinion-y and silly. One thing that those experiments have in common is that they emphasize, implicitly, the voices and the personalities and, finally, the brands of the news agencies’ individual journalists. “The whole idea here is to have real voice and attitude,” Salmon says. “Basically, the page is entirely built by humans. It’s not some sort of weird technology algorithm. But it’s powered by a weird technology algorithm.”

Counterparties finds most of its content via the service Percolate, which is similar to Summify except that it includes, in addition to Twitter feeds, RSS feeds. And: Counterparties uses Salmon’s own feeds, the ones that he’s been cultivating for his private use for several years now. “Counterparties is based on, literally, my Google Reader list of blogs that I read and my list of people I follow on Twitter,” Salmon says. Which means that the feeds Percolate scans include those from, say, Salmon’s wife’s friends — “not because I have any particular professional interest in what they have to say,” he notes, but because they’re his friends, too. “It’s a very personal thing.”

Percolate works through a kind of algorithmic crowdsourcing that reads the popularity of particular links within a defined universe of sources (much like, among other services, Hourly Press and Nieman Lab’s Fuego). Which means that, since the bulk of Salmon’s sources are finance-related, the bulk of Percolate’s returns will be, too. If Salmon’s wife’s friends are particularly interested in, say, avante-garde millinery, links to hautehat.com (probably) won’t suddenly show up under the Reuters banner. And even if Percolate returns those links, the human-algorithm factor will kick in to ensure that the stories ultimately linked on Counterparties will be, by and large, of interest to those who are interested in finance.

“Percolate,” says McCarthy, who will be playing the part of the Human in the production, “is really great at acting as a net to help us catch all the great stories that are linked to by, and cited by, really influential people — and people we’ve already chosen and accepted and trust.” It’s a means to aggregation, though, not the end of it. And aggregation is, anyway, a means to something else: style, personality, fun.

“The heart of this is the voice,” Salmon says. “We don’t just copy and paste headlines. We isolate the essence of what we’re linking to, or what we think is noteworthy about what we’re linking to, in much the same way as you would in a tweet.” Add the tags to the equation, “and you can have a lot of attitude and voice and opinion and distinctiveness — even when you aren’t actually writing anything. Even when you don’t have your own stories to link to.”

Counterparties’ logic — journalists’ personal feeds creating Drudge-like linkblogs — could easily be applied to other verticals, and other journalists. And the fact that Counterparties lives under the umbrella of a newswire behemoth means that it has some leeway to experiment. “No longer is headline writing and story selection a means to an end of generating the maximal amount of pageviews,” Salmon says. “Now it’s just an end in itself.” Counterparties, like Drudge and its fellow linkblogs, provides an ephemeral snapshot of a moment’s big stories. It has permalink pages for each link, but those are explicitly de-emphasized on the site. Counterparties is also, at the moment, ad-free. And while that could change, permanent content — and the monetization thereof — isn’t, Salmon says, really the point.

In fact: “I think the site looks too good,” Salmon says.

“Don’t quote him on that,” McCarthy says.

“You can absolutely quote me on that. Seriously. Because if you look at the most successful sites which link out — Fark, Reddit, Techmeme, Memeorandum, Drudge (and Drudge above all) — they’re all incredibly ugly. And I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s actually as much a feature as it is a bug. The ugly is good, because it drives you away. And the reason you go to that website is to be driven away.”

With that in mind, “we’re aggressively anti-pageview,” Salmon says. “We don’t want people to stay on that site. We just want people to go away.”

“And then,” McCarthy says, “to come back.”

                                   
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  • http://bentrem.sycks.net bentrem

    If I cared about the fate of civilization and the planet I’d chime in with, “I figured out a way to array that stuff that’s dawg-ugly and works better than anything yet invented. Plowed 35yrs of work into it.”

    But I cared enough to carry on from AUG1976 til AUG2011 as an army of 1 without encountering even 1 solitary indication of support. Not 1. Never.
    So I don’t care anymore.

    that’s my line and &tc &tc &tc
    /bdt

  • http://www.facebook.com/mirceapasoi Mircea Paşoi

    Summify actually has (and always had) support for RSS feeds and Google Reader.

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  • Glenn Ellis

    ou
    must be curious why, in all the talk about job creation,  never
    mentioned has been the inventor’s necessary and historic  role in job
    creation.  A Federal Agency, of all places, reaffirmed this in a small
    program mandated by Congress in  1977 with small amounts of grant
    support to selected inventors IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR.  These inventors, 
    on the average, had $8 sales for every $1 of program support money.  No
    other Federal program can make this claim.   

    Yet the program was cancelled in 2003 and is never mentioned today, 
    although job creation has become perhaps the major national issue,
    currently being the main topic of discussion.  I believe you would agree
    that if such a program was initiated nation-wide it could have a major
    role in turning this Nation around.
     
     How better to
    create jobs than to surface and support inventions that become
    businesses which improve our standard of living? Which also requires
    employees to produce those products? Ergo, job creation.  This is the
    primary way jobs have been created in the past. by individual
    inventors, often inventing outside their own field of expertise.  They
    have
    been largely responsible for most of the monumental inventions creating
    the high standard of living we enjoy today.

    So it was natural that in 1977 the legislation that
    set up ERDA, predecessor to the US Department of Energy (DOE)– created the
    Energy Related Inventions Program (ERIP) to solicit, identify, and
    support promising energy inventions from the private sector.

     The success of this program was proven by a DOE funded evaluation
    that showed for every one dollar of program support, inventors from this
    program had $8 return in product sales. No other Federal program, I
    believe, can make this claim. Nevertheless in 2003 DOE “retired” the
    program. You should ask “why,” with a proven track record like this, at
    a time when the economy needs jobs to pull us out of this deepening
    depression, has a program proven to produce jobs been canceled (er
    “retired”).

     Furthermore, a program, involving only PRIVATE SECTOR
    initiatives, that worked under Federal management, for the private
    sector would work much better if managed in the private
    sector. And, it  can
    easily be replicated in the private sector,  because no DOE
    support was needed other than solicitation and evaluation of promising
    ideas. and a small amount of grant support for the inventor to develop
    and prove concepts.  Each of these functions that could be better handled in the private sector involving the region’s own high
    technology companies.

     
    Summarizing, this is about job creation, a worthwhile effort aspiring
    politician should recognize, especially now when jobs creation has
    become the major National issue.

     
    -established by Congress in 1977  as part of the implementing legislation setting up ERDA
    (predecessor to DOE)
     

    -operated Nationally to surface promising energy related inventions from the private sector, and get them into the marketplace
     
    - tremendously successful, for every $1 of program money spent the inventors from this program developed $8 sales.
     

    -this established in an evaluation by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in a study funded by DOE.
     
    -capable of being easily replicated in the private sector, when states and counties desperately need of jobs
    to produce tax revenue

    -as resources, requiring only support from high technology
    companies
    requiring only solicitation from inventors,
    evaluation by the high technology companies to identify worthy
    inventions, and grant support to develop workable prototypes and/or
    marketing studies to substantiate market application(s)
     

    - which could easily be expanded into a National program
     
    -note also that the Licensing Executives Society exists to support inventions having reached the prototype stage. 

     
    Confirm these details by googling Glenn Ellis

    > glenne1949@aol.com

  • Glenne1949

    You must be curious why, in all the talk about job creation,  never
    mentioned has been the inventor’s necessary and historic  role in job
    creation.  A Federal Agency, of all places, reaffirmed this in a small
    program mandated by Congress in  1977 with small amounts of grant
    support to selected inventors IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR.  These inventors, 
    on the average, had $8 sales for every $1 of program support money.  No
    other Federal program can make this claim.   

    Yet the program was cancelled in 2003 and is never mentioned today, 
    although job creation has become perhaps the major national issue,
    currently being the main topic of discussion.  I believe you would agree
    that if such a program was initiated nation-wide it could have a major
    role in turning this Nation around.
     
     How better to
    create jobs than to surface and support inventions that become
    businesses which improve our standard of living? Which also requires
    employees to produce those products? Ergo, job creation.  This is the
    primary way jobs have been created in the past. by individual
    inventors, often inventing outside their own field of expertise.  They
    have
    been largely responsible for most of the monumental inventions creating
    the high standard of living we enjoy today.

    So it was natural that in 1977 the legislation that
    set up ERDA, predecessor to the US Department of Energy (DOE)– created the
    Energy Related Inventions Program (ERIP) to solicit, identify, and
    support promising energy inventions from the private sector.

     The success of this program was proven by a DOE funded evaluation
    that showed for every one dollar of program support, inventors from this
    program had $8 return in product sales. No other Federal program, I
    believe, can make this claim. Nevertheless in 2003 DOE “retired” the
    program. You should ask “why,” with a proven track record like this, at
    a time when the economy needs jobs to pull us out of this deepening
    depression, has a program proven to produce jobs been canceled (er
    “retired”).

     Furthermore, a program, involving only PRIVATE SECTOR
    initiatives, that worked under Federal management, for the private
    sector would work much better if managed in the private
    sector. And, it  can
    easily be replicated in the private sector,  because no DOE
    support was needed other than solicitation and evaluation of promising
    ideas. and a small amount of grant support for the inventor to develop
    and prove concepts.  Each of these functions that could be better handled in the private sector involving the region’s own high
    technology companies.

     
    Summarizing, this is about job creation, a worthwhile effort aspiring
    politician should recognize, especially now when jobs creation has
    become the major National issue.

     
    -established by Congress in 1977  as part of the implementing legislation setting up ERDA
    (predecessor to DOE)
     

    -operated Nationally to surface promising energy related inventions from the private sector, and get them into the marketplace
     
    - tremendously successful, for every $1 of program money spent the inventors from this program developed $8 sales.
     

    -this established in an evaluation by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in a study funded by DOE.
     
    -capable of being easily replicated in the private sector, when states and counties desperately need of jobs
    to produce tax revenue

    -as resources, requiring only support from high technology
    companies
    requiring only solicitation from inventors,
    evaluation by the high technology companies to identify worthy
    inventions, and grant support to develop workable prototypes and/or
    marketing studies to substantiate market application(s)
     

    - which could easily be expanded into a National program
     
    -note also that the Licensing Executives Society exists to support inventions having reached the prototype stage. 

     
    Confirm these details by googling Glenn Ellis

    > glenne1949@aol.com

  • Glenn Ellis

    in my previous msg it should be:
     
    Confirm these details by googling energy related inventions program> 
    including a printout of the ORNL Evaluation previously mentioned.   These are all matters of public record.

    Glenn Ellis

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