Loud3r, a start-up content aggregator that we saw present at the Under the Radar conference earlier this month, officially launched its network of content sites Tuesday morning. The launch includes 25 focused sites, all of which share the "3r" branding. In addition to more mainstream-sounding New3r (which covers gadgets and tech) and Glitt3r (fashion), the company's portfolio includes sites focused on enthusiast niches, such as sneakers (Sneak3r), skateboarding (Grind3r), and martial arts (Fight3r).
The sites use a combination of human input and an automated semantic engine in an attempt to suss out not only the most relevant but also the most interesting or most important pieces of information within the category of focus. To start, a human editor identifies quality sources of content for the subject area and builds a glossary of terms; the humans add metadata to search terms so results can be more nuanced than a strict keyword search. The engine then analyzes new pieces of content and surfaces those that are determined to be more relevant to the topic or interesting to users.
Readers can take part in refining the sites' content by suggesting news sources; those who create a profile can also share stories they like or broadcast a feed of the stories they've read. This last feature, aside from letting you develop your own mini-feed of content, also feeds back into the Loud3r algorithm. Eventually, the system learns your preferences and surfaces stories that you might be interested in.
I really like Loud3r's combination of machine and human inputs. It strikes a mostly comfortable balance between the exhaustive list of stories generated by a simple search term and the handful of relevant stories you're likely to get from a single human filter, such as a blogger.
That said, the partnership isn't always perfect. For example, when I clicked on the "Barrel" topic in the beta version of wine-enthusiast site Decant3r, I pulled up results that included stories about record-high oil prices and pork-barrel government spending, as well as one image of a gun barrel. (I suspect those results will disappear as the site acquires more users who flag irrelevant content.) And while humans set up the initial content parameters, the pages themselves lack the coherence you'd find at a human-operated site. The Decant3r front page, for example, features traditional headlines such as "Grape growers bubbly over expansion" alongside blog post titles, such as "91 Points in Wine Spectator," that, when pulled out of context, provide little information about the article that follows.
Nitpicking aside, the sites themselves are attractively designed, with a single left-hand column of stories that makes for easy skimming. I will probably be adding some Loud3r feeds in areas of interest to my RSS reader. Whether I spend much time on the site itself, however, will depend on how many other people become part of the community.