Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Wavii Distills Information Overload Into Plot Points

Wavii tonight opens to the public an ambitious Web site and iPhone app with personalized news feeds of what’s going on in the world.

After users specify what topics and sources they are interested in, Wavii crawls the Web for stories, tweets and other fresh information about those topics. It condenses those into headlines and topic sentences that users can scan through and click to learn more.

So, rather than a site like Twitter or an RSS reader, where users receive information from a designated list of people and sources and scan through it in chronological order, Wavii does the algorithmic editorial work on each user’s behalf.

The site identifies newsworthy items by looking at the authority of the source, how widely and quickly stories are spreading, the strength of the language used (if there is hedging, Wavii can flag an item as a rumor) and other factors.

CEO Adrian Aoun compares Wavii’s story summaries to Facebook’s structured status updates — for instance, when a user checks into a specific location or announces they are in a relationship with someone. When information is brought down to those key plot points, it’s easy to consume a lot of it. And like Facebook’s new Timeline apps, Wavii wants to compile graphical summaries of these similar news stories.

So, a Wavii item about a tech acquisition might automatically feature a chart of other recent deals; a story about a starlet arrested for drunk driving would have a list of all the other celebs with DUIs, Aoun said. But not all of that is built yet.

Wavii is the latest hopeful addition to a long line of semantic Web start-ups like Powerset and Twine that didn’t meet the high expectations set for them. But Wavii is different and better than the rest, according to Aoun, because it’s a big-data company rather than a natural-language processing company.

Beyond that distinction — which I think some might quibble with — I think the biggest hurdle facing Wavii is that it’s setting itself up as a destination site with its own social network. Wavii users share their interests publicly, they can see which other people have clicked on an article, and they can start Wavii-specific comment threads.

I’ve checked out lots of smart and well-designed personalized news sites and apps, but I can think of very few that I’ve visited on a regular basis.

Wavii was started in 2009, but this is the first time it has opened up to the public. The Seattle-based company has 25 employees and is backed by SV Angel, Felicis Ventures, Kapor Capital, CrunchFund, Dave Morin, Shawn Fanning, Keith Rabois, Joshua Schachter, Paul Buchheit, Rick Marini and Max Levchin.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus