Shareaholic’s Jay Meattle on the Future of Content Discovery & the Social Graph

Any company that plays at the intersection of “big data” and “killing off Facebook” gets my attention.

OK, the latter part isn’t really what Shareaholic is about, but the startup is trying to create a new kind of social graph that will rival Facebook in its reach and relevance for consumers, publishers, and advertisers. With a lot of luck, it’ll find a way to make more money than the social network, too, once it achieves more scale.

Cambridge, MA-based Shareaholic has been in the news for raising a $3 million Series A round from Kepha Partners, General Catalyst, NextView Ventures, 500 Startups, and other investors. The company is interesting because it has deep ideas about social tech and the future of the Web—and it is implementing those ideas, piece by piece.

Shareaholic started in 2009 and makes software tools for sharing, discovery, and analytics around Web content. Its ultimate goal is to provide a new kind of content discovery platform that is beneficial for consumers, publishers, and advertisers alike. (You can check out my colleague Wade’s account of the company’s early days here.)

I reached out to the startup’s founder Jay Meattle (pictured above), a Tufts grad who previously worked at Lookery, Compete, and other companies. Over e-mail, Meattle—pronounced “Meat-tel,” doesn’t rhyme with Seattle—talked about the role of big data in social tech, how Shareaholic has already surpassed his previous companies in terms of data scale, and how the startup could help us all discover and consume what’s on the Web in a more elegant way than the status quo (hard to imagine—not).

Here are his thoughts:

On the social graph Shareaholic is building to rival Facebook:

“Data is core to what we do at Shareaholic. Sharing communicates interest and intent; we leverage aggregate viewing habits, what and who they share with, and how influential they are to power the experience we provide to our users,” says Meattle. “Aggregated data points include: influencer, influencee, level of influence, intent, topics of interest (based on proprietary [natural language processing], semantic, etc. analysis of shared content) at scale.”

“Shareaholic reaches more than 270 million people each month through Web browser extensions, open platform APIs [application programming interfaces], and one of the largest and fastest growing networks of content publishers—we’re the very definition of ‘big data,’” he says.

On his lessons learned at Lookery and Compete:

“So, so many! I have been so fortunate to have been part of both those great companies,” he says. “Both Compete and Lookery deal or dealt with big data at scale. Shareaholic is already well past both companies in terms of data scale, but having been in the trenches dealing with big data (before it was in vogue) and learning from some of the very best informed the technology and business vision at Shareaholic and also enabled us to move a lot faster as a result.”

He adds, “How many companies can boast of a 1:25,000,000 employee to user-base ratio?”

On how to help consumers cut through the chaos of competing channels, screens, and noise to discover relevant content:

“We believe content discovery is fundamentally broken for some of the very reasons you have outlined,” he says. “In addition to sharing, we’re aiming to make content discovery and consumption on the Web a simple, delightful, and elegant experience for readers. There is a tremendous amount of room to innovate. We see a not-too-distant future that is less chaotic and less noisy where you consume content on your own terms on your favorite screen.”

On what comes after search and social on the Web:

“Lines are blurred between search, social, and what’s next, but generally speaking I see personalization at scale,” he says. That will be “enabled by data-centric companies that leverage advances in…being able to process and make useful sense of loads and loads of data efficiently and quickly.” In short, the dream of harnessing big data for Web personalization seems very much alive.

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