Why Zemanta sucks

According to Wikipedia, Zemanta is

a content suggestion engine for bloggers and other content creators. Zemanta analyzes user-generated content (e.g. a blog post) using natural language processing and semantic search technology to suggest pictures, tags and links to related articles.

If you have a WordPress blog then you’ve probably seen the little Zemanta widget, about halfway down on the Edit Post page. It analyzes what you’ve written and makes suggestions for extra content. While I think the idea is great, it really doesn’t work in a way that makes any sense to me.

Firstly, the ideas come AFTER you’ve written your blog post. That’s complete backwards. If you are looking for ideas for blog posts then you don’t want them after the post is written, you want them before you start writing. Zemanta needs information to perform a search on, I get that, but why can’t you start with a list of keywords and then use it as a research tool. Once you have some great content then write your article?

Secondly, the image search is terrible. I know it’s a stretch to sometimes to come up with a good image when you may be writing about something that’s not physical, but surely it could come up with better metaphorical images, the type you see on cheesy websites everyday. Writing a blog post about teamwork? Then you need an image of a pit crew changing race car wheels. Talking about new business? Then you need a picture of people shaking hands. Those examples are taking it to the extreme and I DON’T think you should use them – they are well-worn cliché’s, I’m just using them make a point: image ideas don’t have to be exactly about the subject of the blog post. Surely they could come up with something similar?

Image representing Zemanta as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

This image is the best Zemanta could come up with for my blog post. It really doesn’t add anything to the post.

To be fair, there is a search box in the image recommendation widget, so you can manually search for an image yourself. But I could do that on Google. Where is the ‘semantic processing’ that Zemanta is supposed to be doing to help me?

Everything Is Broken

Everything Is Broken (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s my image idea for this post. I used the Zemanta search to search for ‘broken’ and found this. Firstly it’s a much nicer looking image than a screenshot, and secondly it’s not too literal, and a little playful.

Lastly, the option to add related articles to your blog post is just lazy. People are drowning in blog posts already, they don’t need ten more to read. Zemanta should help you figure out what’s important in those related articles and build that into your blog post. Letting you tack links onto the end of your blog post is a cheap way to add bulk to your blog post. Some idea about why Zemanta thinks the articles are related may help. I often find myself exploring all the links it presents and losing thirty more minutes trying to understand the articles and how they relate to my post.

What do you think? Am I crazy? Is Zemanta really the bee’s knees? Am I just not using it right? Let me know in the comments below.

 

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13 Responses to Why Zemanta sucks

  1. Andraz Tori says:

    Hi Matt,
    thank you trying out Zemanta! I am a co-founder responsible for the product. It is painful for me when someone criticizes our product harshly. At the same time a lot of your observations are spot on. As you might imagine there are some reason why the product works as it does. I know explanation cannot make the product better for you, but maybe it will make our choices more understandable.

    Zemanta is primarily a writing-helper tool. As you observe its purpose is not to inspire you what to write; Zemanta tries to enrich and complement your writing. So it seems it is not a great fit for what you specifically need.
    We do have information we could use to inspire you with things to write about – your past posts. And we have built a product to do just that – analyse your past stories and the whole web to deliver set of 10 interesting topics to write about to you via email, each day. Unfortunately we couldn’t get people to write more. So for now we have frozen that product. It’s still working and we can set you up with it if you are really interested.

    We have many people report to us how they have discovered completely new things about the topics they were writing about. Looking at related articles Zemanta suggests sometimes opens whole new view points. So we can act as an inspiration and eye-opener, but you need to plant a seed first.

    As for images – we only search through images that are in public domain, licensed under creative commons, considered fair use or similar. Naturally you can find much broader set of images in Google image search, but most of those cannot legally be used for blogs. There are stock photography sites that bloggers can buy imagery from too. Zemanta tries to bring up the best from the free world.

    I think the “Everything is broken” image you’ve found using Zemanta search is exactly the way we’re imagine people are using Zemanta the most.

    As for adding related posts, it again depends on the blogging style and what you are trying to achieve. We see many bloggers use it to show they are not the only ones having certain opinion (by linking to others having the same view). Or sometimes they link to articles that expand on certain topics barely mentioned, but which readers might have interest in. Sometimes they are used by bloggers to do research on the topic without actually including the link into the published post. Yes information overload is real thing, at the same time providing useful “further reads” to readers is also something that’s going to stay with the blogging world for foreseeable future.

    I know my explanations cannot make Zemanta suck less for you. Still, thank you for trying it out and sharing your thoughts about it. All I can promise is that we’ll keep trying to make it better. One of the next things we’re working on is much larger breadth of articles that we’ll be bringing up when recommending related posts.

    Thank you,
    Andraz Tori

    • Thanks for your comments Andraz, I appreciate the time you took to respond to my post, and the objective view you took of it, especially given your position at Zemanta 🙂

      I love the idea of your other product – the one that attempts to suggest new things to write about. I think that’s more along the lines of what I was thinking Zemanta was trying to be.
      After reading your response and re-reading your website I do see now how you position the product and I think I was trying to use it for something it’s not.

      I’m interested in the idea of helping people write more, or better blog posts. I would be thrilled to take up your offer of trying your product that helps provide daily inspiration on what to write if the offer still stands.

      thanks again for your feedback,
      Matt

      P.S. I think the Zemanta blog is great – well written, well designed and it has some great essential articles worth reading. Thanks for creating it.

      • Andraz Tori says:

        Hi Matt,

        about BlogSpire – drop me an email at andraz@zemanta.com and we’ll set you up. Also send a couple of blogs you read that ‘inspire’ you and we’ll use them for seeding the recommendations (together with your own blog). Ideally they would be around the same topics.

        Thank you for the compliments about the blog. I’ll let Nenad know. He’s in charge of our blog. Plus our awesome designer Romina.

        bye
        andraz

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  7. Dawn Russell says:

    Hello Matt. I have just popped by to let you know that, Two of your Pingbacks – ‘I don’t blame you any more, Zemanta?’, and, ‘Why I Hate Zemanta’ are broken. They are MY deleted posts. I was having problems with my blog. “If you remove them, I can add you back? I am really SORRY for the Inconvenience of it all. You can delete this comment Matt. I just wanted you to be aware of the broken Pingbacks. Bye.

  8. Jeff Peters says:

    “People are drowning in blog posts already, they don’t need ten more to read.”

    They do if you want to keep them on your site. One of things I hate most about some blogs is that they don’t offer a way for me to explore more content. I find a blog post I love and immediately think “That was awesome I wonder what else he has to offer.”

    But then I don’t see any links to favorite posts or most viewed and all I have to navigate is a few clumsy little menu options and endless scrolling through hundreds of blog posts. I’ve never used Zementa until an hour ago, but I can already see the appeal. I could add a related article from a year ago that wouldn’t get many views otherwise but may be helpful to others. That helps me, and it helps people who find my blog via search engines and aren’t regular followers.

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