With tools such as WordPress, Tumblr and Posterous, you might think there are already enough ways to publish content online quickly and easily. Primal, which is launching at the DEMO conference this week, thinks that it has something extra to offer. The company’s semantic tools allow publishers to create an entire site of interrelated webpages around a topic simply by typing in a few keywords. Unfortunately, the site’s service could make the growing problem of low-quality content on the web worse rather than better.
Co-founder Peter Sweeney got his start putting together websites for companies, then built a business setting up online communities and e-business sites for musicians before coming up with the idea behind Primal. “We are building Internet automation products, and this one is focused on publishers,” he said in an interview before the launch. “We want to make it so simple and easy to publish content online that anyone can do it in a matter of moments.” Other services let people create sites quickly, he said, but with Primal and its semantic tools, “they can create a whole, vibrant community around a topic.”
Publishers start with the service’s “thought networking” tools, says Sweeney, which involves typing in a series of keywords for a specific topic: for example, technology, social media, mobile, etc. The system then goes out to the web, aggregates content relating to those keywords from a variety of websites, and formats that information into a series of pages, complete with related Google ads. The service’s agents create topic sections and other navigation as well, which Sweeney calls a “lattice of ideas or thoughts to frame your work.” Users can choose the content they want, add their own thoughts or images, then publish with a single click (content can be hosted at Primal for free with advertising included, or hosted at a user’s site for a monthly fee).
While Primal’s tools are easy to use, the content that the service aggregates looks almost exactly like the auto-generated pages and websites some companies produce in an attempt to “game” the Google algorithm and generate a lot of SEO for their ads: a conglomeration of content that matches a keyword but is otherwise poorly written and badly formatted. In other words, what some call a “link farm.”
Will Primal’s tools be useful for teachers who want to create course material sites, or small businesses who want to post useful information about their fields? Possibly. But I think they’ll also be very popular with web-spam artists. For all the company’s talk about “community,” there aren’t really any tools — such as comments or voting — that would allow for true community input. Primal is backed by a group of Waterloo, Ontario-based angels, including early RIM investor Jim Estell, and is looking to raise a $10 million round of financing.