The Latest Sharing Machine

Percolate lets publishers, especially brand managers, sift and react to social feeds

Twitter made content sharing easier because it made the box smaller. Tumblr made it easier because, well, there is no box. Reblog it. Retweet it. Add your own commentary, or don’t. The barriers to sharing content, it seems, are getting lower.

Such developments are perfect for brands that built up large followings but struggle with what the heck to say to those followers. “One of the most common questions we’ve gotten (in the advertising world) was marketers asking us, ‘What should I tweet about?’” said James Gross, co-founder of new publishing platform Percolate. “It seems like such a silly question for a Fortune 500 company.” He would know. Gross, former svp of publishing at Federated Media, and co-founder Noah Brier, former head of strategic planning at The Barbarian Group, have worked with plenty of those Fortune 500 companies in their careers.

The two left their posts six months ago to create Percolate, a browser-based sharing platform that plugs into one’s Google Reader and Twitter accounts, with more feeds in development. Gross said the goal of Percolate, in many ways, is to eliminate the box conundrum altogether. It’s also a heavy-handed coffee metaphor. Water (content!) is filtered (a filter!) through grounds (people!). Or something. Content bubbles up, filters down, and percolates around. You get the gist.

It works like this: Content is culled from RSS and Twitter feeds, plus the feeds of recommended users you can follow on Percolate, plus a history of what you’ve liked, shared, and clicked on, plus a filtering of which news sources you follow that are most unique to you compared with your peers. The last one is key. You’re more likely to see a link from a news source you follow but none of your peers do. It’s a way to avoid the so-called evil filter bubble of overpersonalization. “We try to pump up individuality,” Gross said. “The last thing we want is to become an echo chamber where we only show the most popular stories.”

Percolate’s dual-paneled interface shows one stream of filtered content and one stream of content you’ve shared or engaged with by commenting on or pressing a reaction button (current options: Interesting, Win, Awesome, Fail).

Brands, increasingly tasked with acting as content producers and publishers, have been enthusiastic about the idea because of the ease of “republishing” and “recontextualizing” on top of existing content. And all of this buzzword-laden sharing leads to the mother of all advertising buzzwords: engagement. Percolate works with brand partners to help them do more than just talk about themselves, give away coupons, or apologize to unhappy customers. “We’re teaching them how to be publishers,” Gross said.

They can do that using Percolate’s platform, which allows for extra-lubricated retweeting and reblogging. The founders claim brand managers are so jazzed on it, in fact, that Percolate will avoid angel and seed investment because of income from several soon-to-be-announced API licensing deals with brands. “Our brand customers will help us get past the initial seed round,” Gross said. The company, which has six employees and a hiring plan of 21, will look to nail down a traditional Series A in the fall, he added. 

The service launched July 7 in “double secret alpha” mode. Percolate has provided Adweek with 25 invites. Go here to snag one

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