Twingly Team Interviews: “Websites benefit from interacting with readers”

A few weeks ago we introduced a new series called “Twingly Team Interviews”. We started with Marcus Svensson, one of our skilled developers. Today we bring you the second interview from our series: We had a chat with Anja Rauch who works as a Business Development Manager at Twingly. Being originally from Germany, one of her main tasks is making Twingly a known brand in Germany.

Hi Anja. Please tell us a bit about who you are and what your background is.
I am of German origin, lived for five year in London after studies before life took me to Sweden and to Twingly. I started my professional life with an apprenticeship to become a trained bookseller, which is basically an education in retail but specialised in booktrade. After that I went off to study economy. Since there were no properly paid jobs in Germany after I finished studies but a chance to go to London, I decided to move to the UK. On the big island I worked as Marketing Manager for a small company selling key tags and stuff to the car industry. After that I moved on to the Online Advertising industry and worked as an Operations Manager, ending up managing the European Ad Operations team. When I then met the man of my life, I moved to Sweden. I was lucky enough to start working with Twingly immediately which opened the world of social media to me.

How did you get in touch with Twingly?
I quite simply threw myself into the usual job browsing routine, subscribed to lots of portals like Monster.se etc. On Monster I saw that Twingly was looking for someone in Sales and having worked previously with Sales I simply contacted them directly about the job. I knew that with non-existent Swedish language skills I would have difficulties finding a job in Sweden, but apparently I still managed to convince them that it would be the right decision to hire me, because they did. I was very lucky and very happy as you can imagine. I started in May 2008 as Business Development Manager, mainly focusing on making Twingly a known brand in Germany. It is still one of my main tasks today, although I will get an increasing number of Swedish and international customers to take care of shortly. I look forward to that.

What is it that a Business Development Manager does at Twingly?
The tasks are varied. Monitoring the market one is responsible for, knowing what moves the industry or businesses there, which discussions are hot etc.. I do not only work with business partners, but also with the end users of our product, if one can call a blogger an end user. I also sometimes write blog posts on the Twingly blog, I hold contact to business contacts and in summer I started a German Twingly-Twitter-Account. I visit conferences in Germany like the dmexco plus I travel quite a bit to meet contacts and clients.

That sounds indeed very varied. What motivates you to go to work every morning?
Because the tasks are so varied it rarely gets boring. Also since I started at Twingly lots of ideas were toyed around, resulting in launching a proper blog search (summer 2008), then a microblog search (January 2009), then our current big project Channels (October 2009) or the Twitter-Liveticker Twingly Live in autumn 2009. And I reckon there is lots more to come during the next 12 months. At Twingly we are also a great team which works well together and which has a lot of fun together. It is one of the best work atmospheres I had during my professional life. And apart from that – over 100 partners are using our business offerings which feels good since it means that we must be doing something right.

What is the biggest benefit for publishers to integrate the Twingly services?
If a site starts showing blog links that link to their articles or pages, they usually get more links from bloggers. Being recognised on a site is another way for bloggers to get more readers for their own content. So in general the sites get more links and also more readers via the linking blogs. That supports their traffic figures in a positive way, and they also have a possibility to keep in touch with the bloggers that write about them. In Germany t-online.de is a good example for quite an increase in links from blogs since they started using Twingly in May this year, they went from about 200 new links to about 900 new links per month. Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet in Sweden were by the way our first customers and they are still enthusiastic about the tool.

How do you think the online media and blog landscape will develop in the next years, and which role will Twingly play?
From what I see traditional online media and social media will blend and mix quite a bit more than today. Lots of journalists working on hot topics use Twitter as one of their main research resources, so whether they want it nowadays or not, they are in there and social media in general will be more and more an important source. Then lots of sites started having fan pages on Facebook, Twitter-Accounts, company blogs and trackback systems or Twingly for showing blog links. That means they interact more with their readers and people who are interested in them, which I think they will benefit from. Even if they are often still experimenting and trying to figure out a way that works for them. We at Twingly hope that we will be able to support the process as we do now – not only with new tools, but also with our knowledge we have to share.

What web trends are you most fascinated by right now?
Location based services and all realtime services. Location based services are nice toys for keeping people in the loop of where one is, giving the possibility to potentially meet spontaneously. On the other hand one might share more details than one wants to. Fascinating how my Google results grew since I work for Twingly. Realtime services are great to get information instantly when it happens, I am following i.e. also the development of a realtime service/ database called Datasift which has huge potential to function as a base of new realtime services. On the other hand I am wondering if really everything has to happen in real time. Does it not make our anyway fast paced life even faster? Pros and cons all the time for everything I reckon.

/Martin Weigert

Twingly Team Interviews: “I didn’t have a computer, so I wrote the programs on paper”

Today we start a new series at the Twingly Blog: Twingly Team Interviews. From time to time we will publish interviews with our dear Twingly staff, presenting you the great people behind Twingly, their passions and their ideas and thoughts about the current and future state of the web. We start with Marcus Svensson, one of our skilled developers. During the interview he surprised us with the fact that he didn’t have a computer when he started coding. Instead, he wrote programs on paper!

Hi Marcus! Tell us who you are, about your background and how you happened to get a job at Twingly.
My name is Marcus Svensson, I am 32 years old. I studied applied physics but I have always had an interest in computers and programming. A friend of mine who is also friend with Twingly CEO Martin Källström told him about some artificial intelligence (AI) stuff I was doing in my spare time. Martin invited me to the Twingly office and we talked for a while. At that time I was about to write my thesis so we worked out something that we both were happy with, and in the end it led to a full employment. That was about two years ago.

What about this artificial intelligence project…?
It was for playing games. I could tell the computer program the rules and by playing itself repeatedly it would learn winning strategies. It started out completely random but quickly figured out tactics. The inspiration was a program called TD-Gammon (I think) which at the time was the best Backgammon program in the world, and also better than the best human.

What were your main projects at Twingly during the past two years?
I have mostly worked with Twingly Channels, our main project. But I also handle Twingly Live and the backend for Liveboard. For Channels I worked in a team with the other developers, Twingly Live and the Liveboard was mostly me and Martin who dealt with that.

You said you always have had an interest in computers and programming. When did you start coding?
I was about ten years old. I liked computers and borrowed a book from the library named “Programmera ABC80” and learned BASIC from it. But I didn’t have a computer, so I wrote the programs on paper. Then I visited a friend who had a Commodore C64 that had a BASIC prompt when it started, so we made a simple register where we could enter the initials for our classmates and got their addresses. Something like that. His mother asked my mom “What kind of computer does Marcus have?” when she came to fetch me, and my mother answered that I didn’t have one. After that I got one. 🙂

I really never heard of anybody who started coding on paper… Which are your preferred coding languages, which ones are you mainly focusing on at Twingly?
It depends on the task. Python is my number one choice for general work. If speed or memory footprint is important then C/C++ is the natural choice. But most often the ecosystem around the programming language is what matters the most. Twingly Live is Python, channels mostly C#. C# / ASP.NET can be a bit clumsy at times but it is not too bad, and it is improving all the time.

What are the biggest challenges of your work as a developer?
The biggest challenges are to get a good design from the beginning before you really know where things will be going. So you can make educated guesses at best that you will be stuck with. Another big problem is to see things with fresh eyes when you get used to how it works. New users might be confused by things that we don’t even think about anymore. As a developer you think about everything in terms of implementation details but that’s not the way users see a site or an app.

Could you use any of your AI experience when working at Twingly?
I have done some things like automatic classification of blogs into topics but users have not seen anything of that yet. Sometimes we collect statistics for customers and this kind of classification is useful. But there is none of that AI stuff in Channels or Live. Yet.

Which web trends do you think are most fascinating right now?
I’m fascinated by how free the Internet is and how that will affect society. Anyone can write things (or create music or pictures). If they do it well they get an audience. Instead of a few superstars we will get access to a lot of less famous but very talented people. Whether we’re talking journalists/bloggers or musicians or whatever. The power to decide has moved back to the people instead of the middlemen.

And you are not worried that the old gatekeepers might try to stop that, now that they are realising what you have described?
I think the genie is out of the bottle.

What about hot trends from a more technological point of view?
Of course aggregation is a big issue right now. Most people seem to have problems with information overload or “Google Reader guilt”. I would love to solve that, if only for my own sake.

What’s the difficulty with solving information overload?
If I could have a thousand persons that knew me very well, reading through the Internet every day and make recommendations on what I would like, they would be making some very good recommendations for me. Could a computer do this as well? I think so, but it is a hard problem. Computers are still too bad at understanding content.

So back to AI?
Yep. 🙂

How do you keep yourself updated?
I use sources that I trust. Like Hacker News where people with similar interests post stories, or realworldtech.com where very competent people discuss things.

What are your wishes for the future direction of the web?
I like the directions we have taken with HTML5-based web apps lately. I’d like to move even more things online, web apps taking over from (and integrating with) desktop apps to a larger extent, and a solution to the lock-in problem with web apps. But this feels more like two years in the future, not five. Five years on the Internet is such a long time that I don’t even know what to wish for.