Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Zite Launches (Even More) Personalized iPad Magazine App

Once upon a time, I subscribed to a thread on the Q&A site Quora on the topic: “Why have personalized news start-ups failed?

Thirty-six answers later, I was ready to turn off Quora email notifications. Let’s just say, it’s a pretty rich topic.

But personalized news start-ups may well have more life in them, and that’s primarily because of the tablet content consumption experience. As demonstrated by all the fuss around iPad apps like Flipboard and Pulse, people like the idea of a a touchable digital magazine.

And today, another one is launching, called Zite, which boasts a carefully honed personalized article-picking algorithm.

Zite CEO Ali Davar describes the iPad as a way to “emancipate the technology” his team originated at research at the University of British Columbia.

It had previously been put to work in a browser plug-in called Worio. And, as you might have guessed, browser plug-ins are a tough business.

The free Zite app imports a user’s Twitter tweets, follows and Google Reader subscriptions, offers lists of pre-made categories, and then solicits feedback and refines over time a list of topics and sources the user is interested in. It features articles based on their popularity, number of shares from a user’s network and topic relevance. (Davar said he thinks a person’s Facebook network data is too heterogeneous to reliably recommend articles, so it’s not included as an option.)

Flipboard itself is likely to add more personalization features; the company bought real-time social discovery technology from Ellerdale and has yet to implement much of it.

Vancouver-based Zite is well-funded, with $4 million from angels and Canadian grants, but it doesn’t have business relationships with publishers. The app lays out pictures and articles, stripping out everything else, including ads. Davar said he doubted this would be a problem. “It would be shortsighted for publishers to think of Zite as us versus them,” he said.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik