Gravity: The Social Interest Graph Co.

What is Gravity? Gravity is a Los Angeles-based startup co-founded by three former MySpace executives: former COO Amit Kapur, former CPO Steve Pearman, and former CTO…

What is Gravity?

Gravity is a Los Angeles-based startup co-founded by three former MySpace executives: former COO Amit Kapur, former CPO Steve Pearman, and former CTO Jim Benedetto. And their tagline, “The Interest Graph Co.” says it all. Their main idea is to combine social and semantic understanding of users to identify they content they are likely to be interested in.
In short, when consumers access their social networks - Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare - with Gravity enabled, it pulls content that is most popular and creates a personalized and incredibly accurate Interest Graph. That interest graph data can then be used, with the user’s permission, by third parties for content and ad personalization.

According to Gravity CEO Kapur however, Gravity’s main targets are publisher sites. So, for example, when users go to news sites with Gravity enabled, they see content that is has been chosen specifically for them. This is similar to what Facebook is trying to do with its controversial Instant Personalization product, where a user logged in to Facebook arrives at a new site that already knows who his or her friends are.

The company’s first big integration in October of last year was with the Wall Street Journal, and it recently signed deals with Time and document-sharing website Scribd. If someone reads a lot of articles about Apple, for instance, a dedicated section for Apple related news appears beneath the fold. Kapur says Gravity personalization results, on average, has seen a 200 percent increase in clicks.

For this service, Gravity charges a pretty steep fee to publishers. But that combination of features, being able to provide users with a more interesting content that you know they’ll be interested in, while also getting back a ton of data about those users, makes it seem like a no-brainer for publisher websites. This would also be greatly advantageous to advertisers. With the user data Gravity provides, advertisers can hyper-target specific users. That person who reads a lot about Apple, for instance, would get a lot of iPad and iPhone adds.

Is Gravity actually pulling me down?

In The Filter Bubble, board president of, Eli Pariser argues that personalized web content leads to the narrowing of perspectives.

While it seems to be really useful tool for the publishing end of the relationship, as a consumer, I don’t know if I’d take the time to use Gravity. Because what you’re eventually provided with is a poster-size personal interest graph, which is essentially just a bunch of words and topics you’ve mentioned in your tweets or Facebook posts, connected by lines. Well, so what? What if my interests have changed? Does mentioning something a few times really make it  a passion of yours?

As for me, I’m on the fence. On the one hand, I love technology that gets smarter and more targeted as you use it. There is just too much information on the Internet and, let’s face it, more often than not we just don’t have the time to filter through it all. But technology is an aid, not a crutch, and certainly not an excuse to get lazy. There is a terrible current trend of allowing every opinion to be considered “news,” even when these opinions are factually and scientifically wrong. And I worry that this next level of information personalization will only serve to increase the desire to see, hear, and read only what agrees with them, thus closing themselves off even further.

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