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Copyright 2003-5 Randy Charles Morin
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Mon, 05 Dec 2005 14:39:13 GMT
Attensa Inverview

Attensa announced this morning a new round of financing led by RSSI. Late last week, I interviewed Attensa on the forth-coming announcement.

Randy Charles Morin: Congratulations on the funding announcement. Tell my readers more about Attensa and your RSS reader.  

Attensa: We’re a venture backed software company developing an end-to-end RSS Network that cuts through information overload by automatically and intelligently delivering prioritized, relevant RSS information to anyone in the world and on any device. Strategically speaking, and as our name suggests, we are technologically focused on state of the art work around attention data. We are developing an integrated collection of software tools and infrastructure services that organize, distribute process and measure RSS attention streams in an end-to-end RSS network.  

Our first product, Attensa for Outlook is in public preview beta right now. It works inside Microsoft Outlook to bring up-to-the-minute RSS news and information from your favorite Websites and blogs right into neatly organized Outlook folders. We think, we’ve have built a useful and easy to use RSS reader that takes all of the guesswork and pain out of subscribing, organizing and reading RSS news feeds. Our beta users are telling us that Attensa for Outlook does exactly what an RSS reader should do and that is very gratifying.

When you download Attensa for Outlook, it’s free during the beta; you get the Attensa Engine, Attensa for Outlook and Attensa toolbars for Firefox or Internet Explorer. The Attensa Engine is a desktop app that works in the background to gather, process, organize and store your RSS feeds whether Outlook is running or not. With background processing, RSS news feeds are seamlessly pulled into Outlook. There is no waiting for feeds to load every time you launch Outlook. The engine keeps track of your RSS subscription preferences and data and keeps your RSS subscriptions up to date. It takes care of downloading any subscription files and updating RSS news feed database on your PC.

The toolbars for Firefox and Internet Explorer auto-detect RSS feeds and make it very easy to find, preview articles and add RSS news feeds and subscriptions from Websites and blogs. And, you read your subscriptions and articles using the toolbar.

The toolbars also make it incredibly easy to tag webpages and blog posts using a pull down list. When you tag articles with Attensa your bookmark list on Del.icio.us is updated and synchronized automatically. You can also explore and access your tagged pages using the toolbar. You can also create categories to keep your subscriptions organized. You can publish to LiveJournal, Blogger and TypePad blogs as easily as sending an email. And, you can automatically load audio Podcast files into iTunes and Windows Media Player playlists.

Randy Charles Morin: Tell me more about Attention stream data

Attensa: There is more information available today than we can possibly process.  In our personal lives an endless stream of news, weather, entertainment and social information comes at us from everywhere. At work the unstoppable flow of information comes in the form of overflowing inboxes stuffed with messages and documents demanding varying degrees of our attention. We are sprayed to the saturation point with a fire hose of information and there is no adjustable nozzle to control the flow.

We need a way to cut through information overload and alleviate the enormous demands on our attention by intelligently prioritizing information so the most important information surfaces to the top.

Attensa is technologically focused on state of the art work around attention data that can help users cope with the enormous demands on their attention by using AttentionStreams to prioritize and suggest highly relevant content. At same time we protecting the user's privacy by giving them user control over how their AttentionStream data is shared.

Our approach goes way beyond simply noticing which articles have been read and how people are rating articles to track attention. We think of an AttentionStream as a way of noticing all of the steps you take to gather and consume information. With an Attention Stream what you aren’t reading is just as important as what you are reading.

By intelligently analyzing AttentionStreams, including the obvious and not so obvious ways people consume information, new possibilities emerge to prioritize and recommend higher value content for users while cutting down on useless and duplicate information. Our lightweight AttentionStream enables fast updating of subscriptions at the article level, frequent synchronizations across multiple RSS clients and near real-time analytics to provide prioritized more relevant articles.

Randy Charles Morin: Why do you think RSSI chose Attensa as their first investment? Great management? Great product? Great strategy? Current business?

Attensa: I’d encourage you to speak with RSSI to understand their strategy better and why we fit so well. Apparently they looked at over 600 business plans in a relatively short period of time. That said, we believe we are well positioned in the space due to strength on three fronts: management, technology, and strategy. The founding team has deep management experience in the software business in the CEO/CTO/CFO roles, and while a lot has changed in our industry over the past 15 years, building a sound, fast moving, competitive technology business is still a complex endeavor – and it’s something we have done before. This is my fourth venture backed software business as founder, personally, and when I survey the competitive landscape I see management teams that come from the media business, advertising, or even vertical consulting practices.

We are rolling out best of class RSS aggregator offerings for Outlook, Online, and Mobile. Incidentally, by best of class I mean features, performance, ease of use, and synchronization performance between our clients. But as RSSI learned, this is probably the least interesting part of what we are doing at Attensa. It’s our AttentionStream technology strategy that differentiates Attensa.

Attention data is the cornerstone of a very deep, massively scaleable infrastructure that sits underneath our clients (and planned enterprise servers) and enables the best user experience possible. Like RSSI, we believe in the pervasive use of RSS in business, and our platform strategy was consistent with their desire to build a “keiretsu” of RSS focused businesses. Our new investors and I believe we can be the hub of this Kieretsu because of the deep and flexible nature of our platform – especially in a post Outlook 12 world when “simple” RSS aggregators become commoditized. We can’t wait until Outlook 12 is commonplace.

Randy Charles Morin: Do you have other products, other than the Attensa RSS reader for Outlook? Any new products in the pipeline?

Attensa: Our focus is using AttentionStream technology across a growing product line that is designed to help people cut through information overload by delivering fewer more relevant RSS articles. We think our approach based on improving the user’s experience with RSS and our AttentionStream technology are significant advantages.

Our approach to AttentionStream technology was developed in 2000 before anyone really cared about RSS. We were working on digital marketing infrastructure software to help Internet marketing agencies analyze and refine marketing campaigns in near real-time. Our approach goes way beyond simply noticing which articles have been read and how people are rating articles to track attention. We think of an AttentionStream as a way of noticing all of the steps you take to gather and consume information. With an AttentionStream what you aren’t reading is just as important as what you are reading. 

By intelligently analyzing AttentionStreams, including the obvious and not so obvious ways people consume information, new possibilities emerge to prioritize and recommend higher value content for users while cutting down on useless and duplicate information. Our lightweight AttentionStream enables fast updating of subscriptions at the article level, frequent synchronizations across multiple RSS clients and near real-time analytics to provide prioritized more relevant articles.

We have a three phased product strategy that integrates RSS reader/aggregator clients and client technology, associated workgroup and enterprise servers and an underlying value-add infrastructure that aggregates and triangulates attention stream metadata.

Attensa RSS Clients
Attensa for Outlook is the first in a line of RSS readers designed for the desktop, the Web and for Web enabled mobile phones and PDAs that we will be announcing very soon. All of our RSS reader clients will use a single RSS engine which efficiently delivers and synchronizes information across devices via one entry point to the Web. Attensa’s true-syncing capability ties desktop, web and mobile RSS reader clients together so articles read, filed and deleted are treated consistently across all of the clients.

Attensa RSS Servers
Attensa is pioneering the development of RSS workgroup servers to bring the power of collaborative workspace software and RSS technology to help businesses solve problems, spark innovation and improve decision-making. Scalable RSS workgroup and enterprise versions supporting collaboration and publishing will provide secure data communication inside the corporate firewall and to external partners through a secure bridge.

Attensa RSS Network
Infrastructure Attensa RSS network infrastructure is designed to efficiently organize, distribute and measure RSS news feed articles and their associated attention stream to deliver the most relevant information to readers.

Randy Charles Morin: Microsoft is integrating RSS reading into the next version of Outlook and Yahoo! is integrating RSS reading into Yahoo! Mail. How do you intend to complete in that future world?

Attensa: Simply put…Ubiquitous RSS is good. We believe that pervasive use of RSS benefits everybody and that makes our technology more valuable. Who better than Microsoft (and Google and Yahoo) to educate and make available basic RSS capabilities? Attensa is about value-add, not the inevitably commoditized RSS reader. We and our investors are betting that over the next several years Microsoft will do the heavy lifting and educate the masses of the benefits of adopting RSS.

RSS by itself is dumb. Already users are subscribing to dozens of feeds and receiving hundreds of posts per day. And it is only going to get worse as marketers utilize RSS in lieu of traditional internet media. Further, the enterprise and enterprise application vendors are embracing RSS for every conceivable task. As RSS users (whether through Outlook 12, Yahoo, Google or the common RSS reader) we will soon all be drinking from the proverbial fire hose. The problem will dwarf email inbox overload. At Attensa think this a big opportunity worth solving.

We think the ultimate promise of RSS is “less is more.” Our business and technology focus is improving the RSS experience through real-time attention stream analytics. Long term (i.e. once Outlook 13 or 14 finally gets it right) our attention stream infrastructure will sit quietly, behind the scenes, making the defacto standard RSS reader simply “work better.”

In the meantime, and surveying the competitive climate for readers and pondering the en masse adoption of Outlook 12 in the enterprise (early 2008?) we think there is considerable opportunity to provide quality RSS experience for users of Outlook 2000 and later for the foreseeable future. As for Outlook 12, I think most would agree without even seeing it that there will be considerable opportunity to make it better.

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