Interview: Daniel Chan, Daypop

Daniel Chan is the founder of Daypop, a self-described “current events search engine.” Each day, the Daypop system scours a wide array of news websites, zines, and blogs to find the most popular story links, weblogs and memes. At the time of this interview, Daypop indexes over 59,000 sites daily. Daniel also runs the we::blog service and has fond memories of the TRS-80. Now for the interview…
How did you get started in the land of computers and code?
My first computer was a TRS-80 Color Computer. I begged my parents for a computer because I thought it was a sneaky way of getting something to play videogames. They didn’t go for my “Colecovision is an educational tool” sales pitch. When I got bored with the few games that I had, I cracked open the BASIC manual that came with the computer. It was like discovering a pirate’s map to hidden treasure. It was a revelation when I realized I could learn to program my own games.

Why create Daypop?
Daypop fills a niche in the web search world. Back when I came up with the idea for Daypop, search engines had two month cycle times. This was during the 2000 Presidential Elections. I wanted my news and opinions of the soap opera that was unfolding! I wanted to be able to keyword search all the news sites out there and all the blogs. I was keeping a blog at the time and I wanted to know: what do other people think? I was primarily interested in other people’s opinions but news and fact-finding is always a good complement.

Explain your reasons behind the launch of BlogStats, Word Bursts and Wishlists?
Blogstats is for the ego surfer in all of us. I think the most used feature of Daypop is the citations feature that allow bloggers to see who’s linking to them. Blogstats builds on this idea to find like-minded writers using similarity algorithms.

I created Word Bursts because I noticed a couple memes that wouldn’t get listed on the Daypop Top 40 because there were no authoritative links to ANCHOR THE MEME. These memes, then, are defined primarily by phrases or words and picking out heightened usage of words from blogs in the past few days is a good way of singling out these anchorless memes.

Wishlists were created to find out what people want in terms of music, movies and books. The interesting thing to note about the Wishlist analysis is that these are products that people DID NOT run out to buy themselves, but rather, are products that they’d appreciate as a gift. In other words, they are not necessarily items that people would spend their own money on. Having said that, I think there’s probably a pretty high correlation between being popular on Wishlists and being a popular product.

What are some of the craziest Word Bursts you have seen?
Nothing too crazy. I like the words that are not proper nouns. Words that reflect something deeper than any particular event. Words like Stagnation and Complicit.

How global does it appear Weblogging has become?
It is a global phenomenon. I noticed early on Brazil just exploded. The number of Brazilian Blogs was almost outpacing English ones at one point. Now, there are so many from Europe and Asia, it’s hard to keep track of all the countries tha blog. I know that we::blog, the free blogging service that I’ve run since way before Daypop, is now home to many, many Malaysian blogs.

Do you see any patterns in the transfer of new information?
There’s the concept of reputation managers, or people you trust to bring you news that interests you. They effectively act as middlemen and filter multiple sources to provide summaries of topics of interest. And then there’s the meta-managers like Daypop and all the other link ranking sites that exist now, that in turn aggregate these sources to provide breaking news. It’s interesting that any one expert blogger can easily miss something important, but as a collective whole, breaking news is caught fast.

What challenges does Daypop face in its quest for tracking information popularity?

Daypop is currently not scalable. It runs off one box and does full text indexing of hundreds of thousands of pages every day. The indexing limits Daypop’s ability to track blogs because it’s such an expensive operation. If tracking links were all I cared about then the one box could handle millions of blogs, but I don’t want to lose the ability to keyword search, so I’m contemplating rewriting Daypop to allow it to run in a distributed environment.

What new developments do you see harnessing the momentum of weblogs?
I think the power of weblogs is often overstated. It is less revolution and more evolution. It’s a powerful, efficient method of self-publishing. Blogs make it simple to write on a whim and continue writing, but it doesn’t create writers out of everyone.

I use blogs these days to write about things I learn and to augment my memory, which is getting worse the older I get. It’s a way for me to record my knowledge so I’m less apt to repeat history. So there’s maybe something there in sharing knowledge through blogs.

What 2-3 gadgets could you not live without?
I used to take a digital camera with me EVERYWHERE. I took pictures of everything, both to keep a visual record and also to try and capture those beautiful fleeting moments. I used a Nikon 950 and that thing went with me — backpacking through Europe, traveling through Asia, trekking through Borneo and hiking American urban jungles — for years, until it finally gave up the ghost. The Coolpix 4500 I got to replace it just doesn’t live up to the legend.

More recently, my iPod (old model 20GB) has been on continuous play. Strangely, I don’t bring it around with me, thereby making use of its portability. Instead it sits on my desk at work cranking out tunes.

What applications or website have your attention these days?

Friendster created a blip on my radar a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, in its current incarnation, it just doesn’t have lasting appeal to me, but I think the potential is there for something very cool

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