Twing's the Thing to Jump-Start Online Communities

Mar 03, 2008


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The web is awash with conversations. However, as these conversations compete with one another to gain notice in the vastness of the internet, many get buried beneath heaps of other content, leaving them overlooked and undiscovered. This week saw the launch of a new website called Twing that provides conversation-seekers a way to locate online discussions without having to do too much deep digging.

Twing.com, a property of Accoona Corp., is a free service that aims to help users search for opinions, information, and conversations that match their particular interest—however obscure that particular interest may be. The site encourages users to get in on the conversation by enabling them to find communities relevant to their interests.

While blogs and social media have become increasingly common—and, in following, more easily located via a web search—discussions occurring on message boards and within forums aren't usually surfaced by traditional search engines. This kind of web content is multiplying rapidly, and so, says Scott Germaise, director of product marketing for Twing, "we needed something a little stronger to get to the content underneath."

Typically, search engines scan webpages and index content on those pages, placing a considerable amount of weight on variables like popularity. Forums and the like, by their very nature, exist on an intimate scale. Their smaller web presence often leaves them well beneath the surface of query results. Germaise explains: "Individual forums posts and whole topic threads that may be far more relevant to user queries often wind up on page 10 or 15 of the search results—a deep, dark hole that most users are unlikely to visit. In addition, some forum content is buried so deep in the internet architecture that search engines don't 'see' it, and omit it entirely."

Enter Twing. Using search algorithm technology, Twing analyzes and indexes the content within online forums so that search results are more relevant. "Twing has custom- built a special web crawler that understands the structure of forums, as opposed to just generally crawling web pages," says Germaise. "As a result, we can extract meta-information from semi-structured data to use for further processing." To locate the innumerable forums floating around cyberspace, "Twing uses both automated tools for discovery and collection, as well as human intervention to seek out, include, and categorize forums," continues Germaise. Gathering occurs via Twing's connector technology, known as Twingbot.

Visitors to the site have options concerning maneuverability—users can browse for communities of interest by post, topic, or forum. Further, Twing's homepage features "Hot Topics" organized into categories such as business and finance, education, regional, and sports, as well as separate tabs denoting the forums with the most replies and the most clicks. Additionally, visitors can view the top communities on Twing, which are ranked into two categories—fastest growing and most active—so that visitors can see where all the discussion is happening. Finally, if you're not quite sure what it is you are looking for, Twing provides a directory that lists forums both alphabetically and categorically.

Access to Twing.com doesn't require a login, but users looking for additional functionality can set up a free account. Members can design customized lists of their favorite discussion boards so that the scope of subsequent searches can be more focused. "For example," says Germaise, "a user could create a collection of forums called 'Vacation Spots' and include a bunch of travel-oriented forums [within that collection]. Then, they can use this highly targeted list to search against with particular keywords. This way, if you were to enter 'Aruba,' you'd only get results from travel forums, not news forums or other sources." Twing account-holders can also opt to receive notifications when their favorite forums are updated.

Thus far, Twing—which is still in beta—has already scanned more than 20,000 forums, though due to quality concerns the site only features about half of those. "We're much more concerned about relevance and quality than playing a numbers game," says Germaise.

Twing.com aspires to give birth to a new generation of online interaction, where communities and forums flourish simply because they are locatable. Twing aims to get people involved and interacting within the online communities, and has created an organized haven in which to do so. Says Germaise, "We believe people will not only benefit from using Twing.com, but will also become more aware of and contribute to the ongoing growth and value of forum communities all over the internet."

(www.twing.com)