Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Newfangled Aggregator Trapit Hires an Old-Timer: Yahoo Editor Liz Lufkin

Liz Lufkin used to have a big say about what most of the Internet read. Now she wants to do it again.

The difference is that at Lufkin’s last job, running the home page for Yahoo, she helped shape the daily media diet for hundreds of millions of people a month. Now she’s chief content officer at Trapit, a recently launched news aggregator that attracts some 25,000 visitors a day.

Trapit is tiny, but the real challenge for Lufkin and the start-up isn’t the company’s size. It’s the competition: There are roughly one gazillion services that say they will filter the Internet’s endless waves of stories into something personalized and manageable. Some, like Google news, use unfathomable algorithms; others, like, say they do it using social cues from your Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Trapit’s pitch, essentially, is that it does a better job than the rest because it is built on the bones of a DARPA-funded artificial technology project. It says it isn’t interested in the social Web but the real-time Web, and in the way individual users respond to the stories it serves up, so it can get better at predicting their tastes over time.

I don’t have any way to vet those claims based on my brief demos of the site (above, the top results for “greek yogurt,” in case Dick Costolo is interested). But I can note that hiring Lufkin to help sort and display content is an acknowledgment that even the smartest computers need an assist or two.

In addition to her editorial work, Lufkin is also supposed to help Trapit build a business. Right now, the company simply points users to publishers’ original stories (surrounded by a framebar) and there’s no revenue in that. But Lufkin and Amra Tareen, the site’s new biz dev head, are supposed to go out and create partnerships with publishers so that Trapit could help them sell subscriptions or a la carte articles.

It’d be great if they could get a couple of those deals hammered out in the next month or so, when Trapit’s new iPad app is supposed to launch. But Lufkin and Tareen just started at Trapit this month, and if you’re betting on publishers to move quickly, you’ll lose lots of money, fast. Best to give this one some time.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald