Context 1.0

Ryan Singel, late of Wired, has left the magazine to work full-time on a new venture, Contextly. Earlier this month, he explained the company's mission:

"We’re called Contextly because we believe context is everything and that current CMSes largely treat each new story or post as if it has no connection to what came before it. We have an expansive conception of what context means and believe new tools can make news better for readers, more fun to publish as journalists and more profitable for publishers, big and small."

Contextly's initial product improves how online media can identify and offer related links:

"And what about the readers that come to your older posts via search – how will they know that you’ve written more recent pieces on related content? In my early days at Wired, we tried to deal with this by hand-crafting related links using HTML and a text file that we’d copy and paste into our stories. That model was, to put it in kind terms, inefficient and non-dynamic."

"From that frustration and others, came Contextly. We’ve built an editorial solution to this problem that marries editorial control with serendipity. Our related links widget has been running on a number of sites, including across all of, in our stealth beta for months. We’re not at liberty to say how much we’ve increased page-views and time-on-site for Wired, but it’s been *interesting* and we’re very happy with our start."

You'd think that I'd be all over a start-up whose business model emphasizes context, but the venture seems less ambitious than it could be. Contextly's target market is journalists, whose work lives (and page views) would be improved by more efficient and effective linking tools. Singel also talks about providing some services to bloggers, though they appear to be related to e-commerce.

While that approach is understood, it effectively perpetuates the container model of publishing. A better way of describing containers still winds up describing containers, limiting what can be done with content after it is created and disseminated.

Wisely, Singel is cautious in talking about Contextly's product and plans, so related links could be just a starting point. If I had two pieces of advice for the new venture, they would be: think about tools and workflows to build databases of content; and consider offering products that anyone could use to research, report and publish content.

These approaches provide a hedge against the decline of traditional publishing models. That's very much needed if you believe (as I do) that a focus on "editorial control" and containers won't prevail in a networked world.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.