Thursday, December 17, 2009

Spoke Service Announcement: Spoke is Slow or Non-Responsive

As you may already be aware, the service is experiencing some latency today. Users have reported experiences from slow search load times to searches timing out. We want to let each and every one of you know we are aware of problem and working aggressively to resolve it.

At 4:00 AM PST this morning, our system tracked a spike in the system load. This bottleneck caused a back up in several key downstream applications resulting in the slow, or sometimes halted, user experiences.

The Spoke engineering team is actively engaged in, and fully committed to, the resolution of this issue in a timely manner. Members will be notified shortly via e-mail about the issue and will be notified again when the service is back to normal. If you are trying to register for Spoke, please try back again soon.

We thank our members for their support and ask that everyone bear with us through this service interruption. And we promise to you, to continue to deliver a place where you can expand your network to forge new relationships.

-The Spoke Team

Update: Latency issues have been resolved. All Spoke systems are now operating normally.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

More and better information coming to Spoke!

Get ready, changes are coming. Not kidding. Big, exciting changes -- and a lot of them -- are about to hit here at Spoke.

You already know reaching businesspeople can be difficult, to say the least. You also know that Spoke -- with your help -- has made this a lot easier by building the largest network of professional contacts available on the internet. As we have done this our greatest challenge has been keeping up with the wealth of information we are making available to one another through Spoke. The upgrades we’re about to release not only take care of that but add more and better data and make it easier to access than ever before.

The change that will be most apparent is our new, improved look and interface for both our website and membership-only areas. This new look isn’t just chrome: It will let members connect with each other faster. We’ve worked long and hard with designers and usability experts to come up with this and can’t wait to hear what you think.

While that will be the most immediately noticeable change, we know it won’t be the one you like the most. In the battle for better data we’ve devised a way to keep our information as fresh and accurate as possible.  Spoke will now enable you to reach 50% more businesspeople. It’s not just more information, it’s better information too: Most of those contacts will have been updated in the last nine months. That means you’ll have the most recent information on over 55 million professionals and the best tool to find them at your fingertips.

We’ve also added a lot of things you told us you wanted. These things will make Spoke easier to use and help you grow and leverage your professional network. Over the last year we’ve surveyed many of you to find out what you like most about Spoke and what we can do to make your experience using Spoke even better. So thanks to your suggestions we’re rolling out:

  • Easier, more intuitive searching

  • Simpler navigation from one tool in Spoke to the next

  • The ability to see exactly what you’re going to get when you customize your profile

  • More tools to get Spoke information outside of

  • Improvements to existing connection tools like referrals, group connections, and invitations.

As they say on TV, “But wait, that’s not all.”

  • We are also going to be launching the Spoke Ambassador Program. The Ambassadors will be able to raise their personal profiles by being a public voice with other business leaders. They will also have an insider’s role on the development of Spoke’s features. More information about this program and how you can apply will be coming soon.

We really appreciate all the help you’ve given us in making Spoke better. These changes are all a direct result of what you’ve told us you wanted. The Ambassadors program is just the latest example of our commitment to making Spoke what you, our customers, need. So please, don’t stop telling us. We promise to keep asking … and listening.

Friday, March 13, 2009

More people to find and other quiet improvements

In the last month or so we’ve been busy improving Spoke in ways you may not have noticed. A lot of the improvements we make here at Spoke have to do with behind-the-scenes things that are making the service better in ways that might be hard to notice at first.

Our mission is to be the best way for business people to connect with other business people. To that end, over the last month we have been able to give our members access to 20% more business people. This means 20% more people in your search results and 20% more people you can connect with. Run some searches and let us know what you think.

Being a large online business network means we have a lot of web traffic – in fact, over a million people visit Spoke’s site every week. A lot of these visitors are people who have found their public Spoke Profile while searching for themselves. Spoke Profiles are built from information that’s publicly available on the web or that is provided by our members. We believe people should be in control of their information online, so we want to make it as simple as possible for people to see what information is out there and correct it if it is wrong. We encourage visitors to claim and update their public Spoke Profile. In the last month we’ve made this process smarter so it is easier for visitors to claim and update the right Profile.

These are just the latest and far from the last improvements you’ll be seeing from us. Including some really big ones in the near future. Stay tuned…

Friday, February 13, 2009

Don't want your information published on Spoke?

Because Spoke is constantly getting information from publicly available sources and from our members, we sometimes publish information about people who prefer that we didn't. We respect that and have worked very hard to make it easy to suppress this information. Here's how:

  1. The fastest way right now is register and suppress the information yourself. Once you log in, just set your Profile display preferences in the 'My Spoke' portion of the Spoke member site.

  2. If you haven't registered with us just click here and fill out the form. We will suppress your information from display our online, public-facing Directory and our members-only Service. We will answer your request as fast as we can.

FYI, Spoke retains some identification information in the Spoke database after receiving a suppression request ONLY so we can maintain an effective opt-out list to prevent the republication of this information.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

2008: A pretty good year, actually

It's safe to say few people are sorry to see 2008 in the rear-view mirror. But even times as tough as last year have their successes. That was definitely the case here at Spoke.

A few of the things we're proudest of in the last year:

  • From 12/07 to 12/08 our unique site visitors increased by 140%, same for our registered user. This increase in traffic (YAY!) put a lot of pressure on our infrastructure (BOO!).  Thanks to a lot of creativity and hard work from the engineering team we not only handled that but we're now making changes that will allow us handle significantly more traffic.

  • We should also talk about data quality and the fact that increase in traffic didn't help us there but we should solve this issue quickly.

  • We put in place metrics to  monitor, measure, test and act quicker to understand what our members want from Spoke.

  • We spent time a lot of time talking with experts outside of Spoke about both what we're trying to do and how we are doing it. Not only did these conversations let us know we're on the right track, they got a lot of other companies excited about Spoke. If we are successful in these next few months we will have the biggest, most accurate database of business people in the Industry.

All this progress came despite sacrifices.  Like every other business, budget constraints are making us get everything we can from our resources. While that sounds really cool when discussing technology, we know that it's very hard on our most important resource: Our people. So a public salute to everyone -- Engineering, Marketing, QA, Operations, Client Services, Finance – for the extra hard work and the results that has delivered. While we have much more to accomplish, we have never been more proud of the team or optimistic about our future.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Our data quality is good and needs to get better

Here’s something you and I already know: Spoke is far from perfect. Sometimes you get a search result that has bad or outdated info. Maintaining data quality at a very large scale is a problem that bedevils all  “people-search” sites. Recently Seth Grimes wrote a very interesting article taking us – in particular – to task for this. He did a search for a friend of his, Neil Raden, and got results that incorrectly identified the firm he worked for (Hired Brains Magazine is actually Hired Brains Consultancy) and the dates he worked for another company. Seth was totally right to point out flaws in our product. However, it’s worth noting the results from a couple of other sites he compared us to.

  • One lists 19 different people named Neil Raden – none of which are connected to anything called Hired Brains.

  • The other listed just one person and if you click on the related search marked “works for Hired Brains Inc.” it tells you nothing. If you want further contact information you have to sign up with another service.

Our results – assuming you are a Spoke member and not just using the public search results -- actually provide the information to find and contact the Neil Raden in question. Further, by clicking on our web results tab a Spoke member gets links to a large number of articles by him. I want to make it clear, we are not defending our having data that is even slightly incorrect.

Data quality is our most important issue and an area which we have improved on. Neither Seth nor we are satisfied with where we are right now.

When Spoke opened its network less than two years ago, we didn't expect the success we are currently undergoing in term of community involvement. Our community is updating or adding about 350,000 new profiles and contacts every day. This is more than ten times the data we were processing daily at the beginning of last year. As the number of participants in the Spoke community increases (it’s already at 55 million profiles), our data continues to grow. Our infrastructure for data processing has had trouble keeping pace with our growth, hence the data quality issue. We want to solve this issue once and for all. To that end and in addition to implementing the most advanced de-duplication technologies, we are currently migrating our data processing technology to the cloud. This is letting us to scale our capacity dynamically to handle increased traffic, data and more.

What do you think? Any complaints, comments or successes? Please don't hesitate to let us know.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The truth about what Spoke does and doesn't do

There's a way in which the interwebs are like a giant game of telephone (y'know the one where one person says a phrase to someone who in turn says it to someone else and this continues until the mangled phrase gets back to the originator). Facts get mangled – sometimes intentionally and sometimes not – and then they can take on a life of their own. Do a search on Spoke and you'll encounter some incorrect things about us repeated over and over.

Here are the most common ones:

  • The Spoke toolbar is a virus or spyware that members have to use

  • We suck out all the information from your Outlook contacts file

  • We don't let you change or delete the information in your profie

  • We collect and publish people's personal phone numbers and direct email addresses.

Here's the truth:

  1. Members are never required to install the Spoke Toolbar – this is a completely optional tool that members can use to automatically build their network. Many of our members find the Spoke Toolbar to be extremely valuable because it allows them to "instantly" create their network. That’s because there are ten time more contacts in your email system than in your “official” contacts database.

  2. If you agree to download and install our toolbar we will collect people's names and job titles and emails. This information is only used to validate emails addresses. Eighty percent of the emails we are collecting on a daily basis are validating existing emails we already have and 20% are new. This means that we can help you make sure you have the most up-to-date information possible. As a result, we can improve the quality of the information for you and everyone else in the Spoke community by validating where other members work through email signature files.

  3. Spoke gets information from three sources: published information about companies, public information available on the web, and information provided by our members. Spoke does not publish private information about people – only name, titles, and company affiliations along with the company's address and main phone number (not direct lines or extensions). This is less than the information on most business cards. This information is never published unless it has been validated.

  4. We want to make sure our directory is accurate and that you are comfortable with your public profile. So, we provide several options to control your information on Spoke:

Please understand that Spoke is a small company. We really want to honor your requests for suppression. If you put in a support request through our website and provide the information we need to suppress your public profile (ideally, your full name, e-mail, and the URL of the page), we promise to suppress the information quickly. But if you send e-mails, it may take us a long time to complete your request and we may not have the resources to let you know it’s been done.

If you doubt any of what is written above: DON'T TAKE OUR WORD FOR IT. Go to the site and look for yourself. Claim your profile and correct the information in it or delete it. Do a search and see what information we actually provide. That's one of the things I love about being in business on the web: The truth will out. I wish these facts were as fun as the rumors, but the facts usually aren't.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Welcome aboard!

I'm Frank Vaculin, CEO of Spoke. Welcome to our blog.

First, I want to say thank you to the millions of people who use Spoke every month. Over the last two years, Spoke’s community has grown tremendously and many of our members have asked us to start a blog to exchange ideas and feedback. We think this is a great idea because we have a lot of work to do, and your feedback and ideas will be crucial. We have a lot to learn from you and hope that you will be open with your comments, both good and critical. Our commitment is that we will listen, learn and exchange ideas about how to make Spoke better.

Over the next few months there will be some big changes on the Spoke site. We will be talking about these changes as we release them and we really want to hear back from you. You have also told us about some other topics that are important to you, so we’ll also be talking about a broad range of subjects such as privacy, professional networking, trends in the industry, the quality of our data, and tips and tricks to get the most out of Spoke. We will also be debunking some of the myths about Spoke. Of course, over time, the blog will define itself through interactions with you.

I’m looking forward to learning from and with you.

All the best,