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Online publishing is about to get a lot smoother for publishers. Whether that’s a good thing for readers is another question, however.

New York-based startup Parse.ly is releasing its flagship product, Dash, into general availability Tuesday. It’s meant to help publishers and media companies optimize their content and grow their readership by giving them better insights into what people are reading, how they get there (social media or search), and what topics are trending.

The product is akin to your run-of-the-mill web traffic dashboard (think Google Analytics or Chartbeat) — except Dash is more tied in to the content and topics behind all those page views. It strives to quench publishers’ thirst for more page view juice.

Dash runs on top of Parse.ly’s optimization platform, developed over a two year period, which crawls a publisher’s website. The tool indexes every piece of text on the site and parses it all to identify topics, people, places and events. The product then allows for realtime article performance analysis around a variety of variables and seeks to predict the topics that will produce the most successful stories.

“Dash is the evolution of spending a couple of years working with publishers to understand their pain points,” Parse.ly CEO Sachin Kamdar told VentureBeat. “We thought we had the opportunity to create an amazing tool because the web is interactive, and because current systems are not capturing data in a way that is meaningful.”

The dashboard tool, already used by Atlantic Media Group, U.S. News and The Press-Enterprise as well as VentureBeat, offers publishers and editors a means to slice and dice past and present content by topics, authors, sections and referrers. The tool takes the standard analytics capabilities of a Google Analytics-type product and throws in a few additional layers for an (ideally) more comprehensive view of site and author performance and potential.

Dash tracks authors’ top posts, velocity and page view trends, susses out the topics on your site that are on fire or fading, allows for comparative site section analysis, measures social media impact, and identifies top influencers on social networks.

The dashboard’s most unique feature is the Webwide Trends component, which rolls up data from across Parse.ly’s widespread publisher network to find topical traffic trends (during its year-long private beta period, Parse.ly crawled 4 million URLs and tracked 4 billion page views). Here Dash looks at what’s bubbling up on the web and determines the best opportunities for coverage. Users can also search for particular topics to gauge whether they’re trending or flatlining, and look at the performance of multiple topics in a comparison chart.

VentureBeat executive editor Dylan Tweney is hooked on Dash, referring to it as “catnip for editors.” “The ways that Dash lets you slice and dice page view data, posts, authors and topics is incredibly powerful,” he said. “It’s given me much better insight into what our readers like (and where they’re coming from) as well as what my writers are up to and how effective they’re being.” (VentureBeat is a non-paying beta customer of Dash.)

Dash could be a powerful tool with profound consequences. The publisher gains insight into how best to write for more traffic, but at what cost to the reader and the writer? Understanding hot topics, broader trends and historical data are important pieces of the digital publishing process, but the unfortunate side effect is that this could correlate to an influx of more cheap, low quality, search and social media-optimized content. Hip hip, hooray?

The fact is the predictive side to the product can’t possibly understand what readers actually want to read or will fully appreciate, and instead looks at data to determine what type of content has the highest potential to bring in the most page views. Content optimization does not equate to optimal content. And any writer, blogger or journalist with a true passion for story-telling knows how unfulfilling it is to frame or chase stories based on their page view potential.

Parse.ly’s Dash won’t be to blame for perpetuating the problem, per se — it’s just the catch-22 of the industry — but don’t be surprised to see media sites flock to this type of tool.

Dash doesn’t come cheap. The product starts at $499 per month for the most basic plan.

Parse.ly was incubated at DreamIT Ventures. The start has seven full-time employees and has raised $1.8 million in funding to date.

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