A Small Ode to the Web

High Bridge, New York
Yes, mobile browsers suck and crash too often. Web pages take too long to load. Too many publishers make it an Olympic sport to read a story to the ending killing pop-ups and dodging auto-playing videos.

And all the other complaints, too.

But, last Sunday night when I stumbled across this Vulture story about 100 jokes that shaped American Comedy, I had to stop and say thank you to the Web.

The piece is a compilation of 100 jokes from American history, from 1906 to the present. Each changed society and comedy, breaking new ground and cultural barriers. There’s a nifty JavaScript timeline that lets you jump by year; but for the most part, it’s just HTML and embeds.

And it’s miraculous.

I’m far from a historian of comedy, so I’m not going to argue over the editorial choices; instead, I’m going to be a simple fan-boy.

I learned a lot from this list – in no small part because the SoundCloud and YouTube clips that accompanied each selection let me experience the joke accompanied by context..

That includes the opener – a 1906 joke from black comedian Bert Williams (who I was ignorant of). Thanks to someone who took the time to upload the likely now-in-public-domain recording, this bit of history just loads in a webpage on a mobile device.

And the piece goes on from there – to classic bits like Who’s on First to lesser known vaudeville from Burns and Allen to a brazen, hilarious Bernie Mac performance at the Apollo in the 1990s.

This experience wouldn’t have been possible without the web and embeds (and fair-use and Section 230 of the DMCA).
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Favorite Feature #14: Automatically Recommending Evergreen Stories


For sites with hundreds of posts, there’s a rich underlying content that isn’t out of date and still gives value to readers. These older stories are what we call Evergreens, since they keep giving value to readers long after they have been published.

Contextly automatically identifies evergreen stories on our publishers’ sites and uses them as one of the recommendation strategies in the Explore section (we pair evergreens with personalization and popular). We’ve found that evergreens perform as well as or better than the popular sections.

Here’s one of my favorites from Make:, a post about how to cut wine bottles into drinking glasses with easy clean cuts. It’s from 2010 and readers still love it in 2015.

Make: Bottle Cutting

After it showed up in the Evergreen section of the Contextly reports continuously, Make: then added a new story updating the post with a way to make cutting bottles cleanly even easier.

The other great thing about evergreen stories is that they do change. We see stories, especially seasonal ones, bubble up and become relevant again.

Getting those in front of readers doesn’t just help readers; it helps publishers get the most from the work they do.

[For the month of November 2015, in honor of National Novel Writing Month and National Blog Posting Month #NaBloPoMo, I’ll be writing a post a day about a favorite Contextly feature. It’s a bit of a love letter and a bit of a how-to.]

If you want to try Contextly on your own WordPress site, you can download it from the WordPress plugin gallery or you want to learn about our custom CMS integration, drop us a line.

Favorite Feature #12: Integrated Video, Text and Product Recommendations

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 5.16.01 PMThere is video over there. There is text over yonder. And in the recommendation section never shall the two commingle.

Or at least that’s what it always feels like out on publisher’s websites.

We wanted to break down those silos, so we made it possible that text, video and even product recommendations could show up side-by-side in our recommendation modules. That’s just like the way chocolate and peanut butter play nicely in a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup.

Call them integrated or blended recommendations.

So when a video is related to a story, we show the video in the Related recommendations. You can see that in the image above and the one below on a story from Make: about GoPro’s new drone.

Make Integrated Recommendations

We do this using the same technology that powers our text recommendations, using metadata and semantically important terms to figure out the relationship between various pieces of content.

You’ll also see videos and products in our Explore section, which uses 3 recommendation strategies: personalization, evergreen and popular.

We do also have standalone sections for videos and products, but videos and products should be first-class citizens.

[For the month of November 2015, in honor of National Novel Writing Month and National Blog Posting Month #NaBloPoMo, I’ll be writing a post a day about a favorite Contextly feature. It’s a bit of a love letter and a bit of a how-to.]

If you want to try Contextly on your own WordPress site, you can download it from the WordPress plugin gallery, or you want to learn about our custom CMS integration, drop us a line.

Favorite Feature #11: Adding Related Links Pointing to Another Site


The middle of the month deserves a sneaky feature, so here it goes: Here’s how you can add a second site to your curation search and have Contextly think it’s your default site.

Let me explain: say you wanted to choose related links for your own site: redunkcoolsite.com. When you install Contextly, the default search site if you are choosing related links or creating a sidebar will be redunkcoolsite.com.

But say you had a second site: stupidcoolsite.com. And you wanted to link to a post from that site in your related section or a sidebar.

It’s a more common situation than you might imagine, and our solution is more graceful than you might suppose.

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Favorite Feature #10: Analytics Reports, Not a Dashboard

A Dashboard

Early on, we made a counter-intuitive decision. We were not going to build a dashboard. Instead, we would send a daily, weekly and monthly report to our publishers with info on how Contextly was working and other info about their sites.

It turned out the open rates were outstanding. Publishers began asking for more. How can we send this report to more of our staff? Can you include X feature?

We’d stumbled onto something right.

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Favorite Feature #9: Promoting Custom Content

Custom Motorcycle

Many publishers have posts and content they’d like to highlight from their site that aren’t necessarily related to a given story.

Say around Thanksgiving, you might have Fall recipes you want to show off – or even content about how to survive extended family time.

Or if you have multiple sites, you might want to have one site recommending content from the other.

That’s where Contextly Custom feeds come in. You simply give us an RSS feed in the control panel, then specify what module or module section you want it to show up in.

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Favorite Feature #8: Not Having to Do Anything


So far in the November round-up of our favorite features, I’ve shown a few of my favorite editorial tools that we built to make writing faster, easier and more effective for building engagement and SEO. I wrote about our internal linking tool, the external linking one,in-story auto-sidebars and how-to choose related posts, and curated in-story sidebars.

While none of these take many clicks, there is clicking involved.

So Sunday’s favorite feature is about not having to do anything.

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Favorite Feature #7: Promoting What’s Valuable to You

The Promo Link Interface

One of the lessons we learned early on is that publishers have more than just content they want to recommend to readers. Publishers might have their sports writer talking every Tuesday at noon about Sunday’s game. Or have an email list they’d like folks to subscribe to.

Still others are companies doing content marketing to build their business and they have whitepapers they’d like to promote to blog readers. Others may be authors who would love to have a way to promote their book.

That’s why we built what we call Promo Links. Promo links are internal marketing recommendations that are shown to readers in reserved spots in our recommendation modules.

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Favorite Feature #6: Customizing the Main Recommendation Display

Main Module Controls

So far, our set of posts on our favorite features has largely focussed on editorial tools. Things like choosing links for SEO building; or cool sidebars that build engagement and lower the bounce rate.

For the Friday edition, I want to venture into the Control Panel. We spent a lot of time making the displays not only customizable, but easily customizable. We built some simple tools to let sites choose the order of the sections in the main module.

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