AideRSS gets some kudos today. Not just for providing a service that helps bloggers determine which of their posts are the most engaging. Not just for building out a Google Reader plugin (plus integration with Newsgator and others) that lets you weed out the less relevant or active posts and cut down the noise to get a better signal from your feed reading experience. And not just for having easy to understand how-to videos on their website to show folks how to use their service. Sure, I’m going to talk about all of those, but I’ll also compliment them on devising a compelling reason for some of the top social media and marketing bloggers to write about their service. More on that in a moment.

AideRSS LogoAideRSS essentially uses a post ranking system (cleverly named PostRankâ„¢) that measures the number of comments or conversations, bookmarks and even pointers from Twitter for each post, then compares all of the posts on a given blog to give you the cream of the crop. The system separates out the highest scoring posts as best, then a second level of great and a third level of good, along with the “all posts” listing. You can organize and view each category separately or together and even subscribe to a feed of any of the four categories.

What this means is you can not only determine what posts on your own blog are the most engaging, but you can pump RSS feeds from any blog, or group of blogs (they support filtering through your entire OPML file) to instantly weed out the entries that don’t have as much appeal. They’ve even got the aforementioned Google Reader plugin to let you see the AideRSS PostRank of an entry and display by the four levels of engagement right in your reader.

This is not just useful for individuals who subscribe to a lot of feeds, but let’s say you are a business owner or marketing person hoping to participate on a number of blogs in your industry. You’re not quite sure which ones are the most popular and know you don’t have enough time to comment on 30-40 blogs in a given day. By filtering your feeds, or an OPML file of your feeds (available by exporting folders from most feed readers), you can figure out which five or 10 in a given day are widely read enough to bother taking the time for.

In theory.

There are two hiccups to the theory that I have found. Unless I’m mistaken, a post that might have a post rank score of 7.5 (out of 10) on my blog is very different from one that would have a 7.5 on, say, TechCrunch, or another blog that can see 50 comments in the first hour or so of a post going live. Comparing the “great” posts on a small, niche or low-traffic blog to those on high-traffic sites seems an apples-to-oranges (or apples-to-raisins) comparison. My 7.5 may be a great post, but it won’t have nearly the amount of traffic and engagement a 7.5 on TechCrunch would have with an article that achieves the 7.5 based on sheer volume, not just quality of the text.

The lovely folks from AideRSS are welcome to correct me, but there seems no easy algorithmic way to differentiate unless you have access to definitive traffic numbers and active feed subscribers, which are impossible to glean from most websites. (Their engagement factor also doesn’t seem to count RSS subscribers which, while Fred Wilson argues, and correctly so, these numbers are unreliable in determining popularity or engagement, they are still one way of measuring it.)

The second item I noticed about AideRSS that struck me as incomplete was that determining PostRank is dependent upon time. If my list of 10 “Must Read” blogs each have new entries posted tomorrow morning, it will be midday or beyond before a reliable PostRank number hits to tell me how engaging the entries are. If I need to know which one is most compelling to read before my 9 a.m. meeting, I’m just going to have to guess or I’ll pick the one that might have had the most early-riser comments or bookmarks. This may not necessarily be the most engaging post, but it’s certainly a start.

And speaking of time, the Google Reader plugin makes my feed reader sit and spit a bit as it cues the PostRank info. Not a problem, but annoying.

The system also discounts the hidden nugget you’ll find from time-to-time on a blog that isn’t as widely read or popular. There are new ideas emerging from relatively unknown bloggers every day. I like to read those, too. After all, not too long ago (and perhaps arguably still today in some circles) Social Media Explorer was in the, “not sure if I subscribe or not, but the name sounds familiar” category.

In essence, AideRSS’s PostRank system is unreliable for those interested in immediacy in feed reading. The more time a post has to gain traffic, comments, bookmarks and inbound links, the more reliable the number. It’s still a more effective way of measuring a post’s validity than strictly bookmarks or number of comments, but it’s not perfect.

And there are always snags. For instance, if you look at the PostRank results for SocialMediaExplorer.com found here, you’ll see that (at least according to the data I found at 5 p.m. ET on Sunday evening) my Friday post, “Defining A Social Media Marketer,” had eight comments according to their calculations. I checked. It had zero on the blog and none in FriendFeed either. So, I’m not sure where they came up with that. Many of my solid posts with many comments from months past weren’t even on the list. I’m going to assume the data is from the last 30 days or so, but even then the information didn’t appear to be fully accurate.

For the record, I’ve installed the Google Reader filter and am playing with AideRSS regularly now. I like the fact they can help me weed out items I probably don’t need to take the time to read if it’s been a day or so since I’ve checked my feeds. Ultimately it saves time, which is a good thing. They also have a more refined way of determining what a blog’s best posts are, for those interested in that kind of listing or widget. I may install it here soon, just to monitor it for a while.

Certainly, I’d be interested to know what you think of AideRSS. Please let us know in the comments. I’m sure someone from the service will be clarifying a few things I’ve pointed out here, so let them know what you think. They are listening.

And that brings us to a final kudo or two for the service. Not only are they engaging in the social media space with a Twitter account and some friendly banter with people who mention them, but they found a very compelling way to reach out to some of the top social media and marketing bloggers, in my opinion.

AideRSS's Engagement Ranking For The Top 25 Marketing Blogs, including SocialMediaExplorer.comAideRSS took the July 2, 2008 rating from Mack Collier’s list of the Top 25 Marketing Blogs he updates weekly on The Viral Garden and measured each for a level of engagement, then re-ranked them (see ranking to the left). In Mack’s defense, he bases the list on the Technorati authority score, which, as I understand it, is the number of unique blogs or websites that link to the blog in question over the last six months. Social Media Explorer most recently came in at No. 22 on that list.

However, according to the engagement numbers run by AideRSS, Social Media Explorer is ranked No. 8. We were the biggest jump from The Viral Garden’s list. See their blog post and the full results here. As engagement fluctuates, the rankings change of course, but the list is a more complete and compelling look at which blogs in the marketing space are capturing the interest and engagement of their audiences.

(Keep in mind AideRSS only looked at the 25 ranked by The Viral Garden for July 2. There are plenty of other marketing blogs out there which may have changed the make-up of the list, including some that perhaps don’t have enough backlinks yet to even make Mack’s consideration set.)

Once they had their results, Melanie Baker, AideRSS’s community manager, reached out to say, “look where you rank now!” As I said in my email response, “Damn you, appealing to my vanity!”

So, it’s a solid way to analyze your own blog, those you may want to target for outreach or to filter out the good stuff from the number of feeds you subscribe to. While not perfect, it’s pretty strong and pretty cool. I certainly recommend digging in and checking it out. Perhaps you’ll find a different way it can help you. If you do, please come back and share with us here.

And, Melanie and the AideRSS team gets an extra “bravo” for a pretty compelling and convincing way to conduct blogger outreach — by giving us something useful that exhibits the power of the product, which is certainly relevant to our audiences. At least one other blogger ranked on this list has said before that if he doesn’t ask for something via email, he considers it spam. I didn’t ask for this. But even if I stayed solid at No. 22, or even dropped to No. 25, it certainly is something of relevant interest to me and (I’m assuming) my audience. Nice job, gang.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://aiderss.com Jim Murphy – AideRSS

    Hi Jason,

    Great post…just a few clarifications.

    1. As you say Feed-based PostRank normalizes engagement score relative to a feed’s hostorical engagement. This is what makes your 7.5 different from a TechCrunch 7.5. But, with the newly released Thematic PostRank (used in the latest GoogleReader Extension) the PostRank scores are normalized to each other.

    Now you can use the API to send in urls to 50 posts on 50 different fees and get PostRanks normalized to that “theme”. Try it with posts form the VG top 25 list for example.

    2. Regarding PostRank taking some time to return with meaningful results. We’re focused on continually reducing the latency of gathering engagement metrics that exist on the “Intenets” but there is a tougher problem when there isn’t any evidence of engagement…yet. We measure social engagement to a post – if there hasn’t been any then there is nothing to report. If we could predict the social engagement of a post with just the post itself that would be a neat trick but we’re currently not able to pull of that magic.

    We’ve talked about developing a predictive model to initialize PostRanks/Engagement scores while a post is initially making its rounds. From a pure PostRank point of view we’d rather not muddy the waters by miking in “lies” to the otherwise defensible numbers. From a reader experience though I can see mixing in heuristics to get closer to the experience you’re looking for – but that would be outside the purview of the PostRank API.

  • http://aiderss.com Melanie Baker

    Hi Jason,

    Dagnabbit, those new VPs are just too enthusiastic! :)

    So yeah, Jim’s right – we specifically set out NOT to compare apples to oranges, because, as you note, what’s really the point of trying to compare pretty much anyone else to TechCrunch?

    However, with the introduction of Thematic PostRank, if that’s what you want to do (or compare any group of personally relevant site “fruits”), have at it, that’s what it’s there for.

    Our argument for not closely focusing on numbers of feed subscribers, for example (which we can glean), is that that metric falls into the same trap as most metrics out there — it only measures reach (quantity), not relevance (quality). So while there’s a good chance that if you write lots of good stuff if you have loads of RSS subscribers, it’s not as much of a guarantee as if what you write generates lots of engagement — that’s our argument, anyway.

    Re. site traffic, if a publisher installs our widget, we can, in fact, track clicks and views. We also have a tracking code, which will be getting more implementations in the future.

    Re. requiring “predictive” ranking to keep up with reader processing speeds (e.g. “wanna know it all by 9am), Jim’s got it. The only other side issue to that, as I see it, is that the immediacy need is very similar to the “professional vs. hobbyist” information need. So a professional marketer, for example, would probably want the social media coverage fire hose, whereas someone only beginning to explore what social media means probably needs/wants to start with the “greatest hits” to figure out what’s going on and how to get involved, and can take their time getting ramped up. People with a compelling event or pressing need require more time and content precision than casual users.

    Re. the extension causing Google Reader slowness, we’ve heard this a few times, and while we’re constantly working to improve our system speeds as much as possible, there’s a user system side aspect we can’t control, so we’ll shortly be adding an on/off toggle to allow people the choice to speed things up if need be.

    I totally agree on it being intermittently really enriching to be able to find the “hidden nuggets”, and alas, we don’t have a solid answer to that yet. But since it’s something I find valuable, I’ll keep pushing the devs with “what ifs” when I can. :)

    The comment count issue is one we’re aware of and a fix is in progress. I’ll give you a holler shortly when it’s in place.

    Whew! The comments are going to be longer than the blog post! Hope that sheds some light on things, though.

    Any other questions or feedback, holler! (melanie@aiderss or @aiderss)

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Jim – Thanks for jumping in and clarifying. I’m glad you cleared up my assumptions on the thematic comparisons. Very cool development and I’m glad to know I can find more usefulness out of the rank in my feed reader.

    And please don’t get into predictive scoring. Go on fact and fact alone. We as users all understand that you can’t measure what’s not there. Time is against you for the immediate-need users and there’s not a person or company on earth that can affect time. Keep up the good work.

    Melanie – You guys and gals are a responsive bunch, that’s for sure.

    RSS – Fair point, but a blog that has 10K subscribers can make an argument for being of higher quality than one with 1K in a similar field. I agree with your thinking, but still believe there to be a place for it.

    All other points, cool. Just again, please don’t get into predictive math. Just stick to the facts. You’ll be more credible for it.

    Bravo to all. AideRSS is certainly helping me manage my feed reading (and making my blog look good, too.)

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