Review: Zemanta, Blogging Assistant

Zemanta calls itself a blogging assistant and promises to make the web writing process fun.  I have to confess that the Zemanta marketing copy was catnip for this writer : “.. creative tools to help you get the most out of your blogging time.” I was hooked.

The software lives up to some of its claims and is certainly a tool you’ll want to try for yourself. It does act a little like an editorial assistant, finding relevant links, gathering graphics, and overall making the blogging process less painful.

Having worked as a writer in the pre-digitial publishing world, I was well aware of all the many moving parts that were in place to get a publication out, and was always in debt to others—copy editors, managing editors, and graphic artists—for making my job easier and fun. When I discovered and experimented with blogging about eight years, I thought I could do it all. As a full-time blogger during the last two years, I now know better.

So what does Zemanta do? The Firefox plugin that I installed knows when you’re in your blog’s administrative page and editing posts. It supports WordPress, which I use, along with all the usual major blog tools. Zemanta then dynamical inserts a new widget and other toolbars into the blog’s Web-based editing page.

One part of its functionality is to take the drudgery out of making lists of tagwords and preparing relevant source links (see below) that many of us attach to our posts. Zemanta suggests possible keywords, which it conveniently lists below the WordPress Post Tags widget. The reference links are culled from the Web and listed in a “Related Articles” scroll box. You can customize the sources that Zemanta scans by specifying your own RSS feeds and blog URLs through a preferences web page.

One glitch I noticed: it appears that Zemanta wasn’t pulling references from the RSS feeds that I knew to be relevant to my post. A quick check of its support forum revealed that I wasn’t the only one experiencing this problem. [Editor’s note: see update below.]

Besides suggesting reference links, Zemanta also  collects  usable (non-copyright) graphics, placing them in its Media Gallery.  A nice feature. For better or worse,  graphics is one of the last tasks in my and I suspect lots of other bloggers’ production cycle.

The trick with software that scans the Web is understanding context—complex pattern algorithms that even Google has problems with.  When I gave Zemanta a post about the FCC, it served up graphics of Supreme Court Justices.  Yes, you can point Zemanta to your own Flickr photo page, which I didn’t do.

There are a few other niceties. Zemanta can add dynamic  balloons (see above at “Zemanta marketing copy”) that lets readers preview links without leaving the blog post.

There’s also a community aspect to Zemanta. You can publish your blog into Zemanta’s global reference list, which could lead to your posts being recommended for other bloggers in the Related Articles box.

Overall, Zemanta is a tool worth getting to know.

Update 3/15/2010We checked again this morning and discovered that entries related to the RSS feeds I added are now showing up in  the Related Articles box.   We assume it was just a delay in getting the feeds registered.  And in fact, the post for which Zemanta brought up pics of Supreme Court justices did reference a case that made it to our highest court.  The picture of justices and the Supreme Court building would have been a reasonable editorial choice.

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  3. My tip would be to use uncheck the reblog button as this adds a link and button to each post. I don’t mind giving credit to Zemanta but should use the tool and publish articles and then realize it does this, you have to go back and take out that code. Don’t forget it is a free service to bloggers but they do make money through the related topics via cpm.

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  6. Nagel

    I have used Zemanta for my site, but removed it when I discovered that the plug-in had inserted a link on my front page. Removing the extension in the browser didn’t help, neither did it help contacting their support!

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