Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Prismatic Social News App Overhauls for a Better Personal Interest Graph

These days, visiting sites like Facebook and Twitter seems to result in homework: Heart-tugging videos to watch, silly listicles to read, essays to contemplate. Now here’s another startup, Prismatic, that wants to collect content for you to consume.

1.feedBut Prismatic says it will find better and more relevant stuff, not just the things your friends and the people you follow happened to share today.

“What’s different is, we’re starting with this problem, and these guys are evolving towards it,” Prismatic CEO Bradford Cross said of Facebook and Twitter. “You should go on Prismatic because you’re going to find stuff on all your hobbies, not just the one spectrum of yourself you share on Facebook and Twitter. You end up having one slice of your persona per network, and this is the whole you.”

Prismatic, which is mainly an iPad and iPhone app for now, doesn’t have the usual stuff you would find on a social network. There’s no status messages or profile pages to maintain. Cross said he hopes that will keep the app from being tainted by the usual social media brand and self promoters (though I imagine if this gets popular, they’ll find a way).

People can do three main things on Prismatic: Tell the service what topics they are interested in and which people they want to follow; read and look at the suggested articles and photos; and share content back to those topics. Support for video is coming next.

If Prismatic has something special to offer — versus the many other social news reader applications — it’s the company’s expertise in natural-language processing, which it applies to better understand what articles fit into which topics.

Cross said Prismatic analyzes 5 million new stories per day and has indexed more than 10,000 interests. So you won’t just see the few random things that went viral that day. There’s a lot of potential variety.

This is not the first time Prismatic has launched, but it’s a significant evolution from previous versions that were more about personalized news and less about social, according to Cross. “Before, people really didn’t understand the product,” he said. Of course, it has yet to be seen if the latest version is more obvious.

Reinventing the so-called “interest graph” — that is, a personalized network of topics — seems to be a bit of an obsession for startups and venture capitalists. Last week we also covered N3twork, a new online discussion app with $12 million in funding.

Prismatic has more than $16 million in venture capital funding from investors including Accel Partners, Jim Breyer and Yuri Milner. Cross said he hopes to make a business out of peddling and referring users to products targeted to their interests and hobbies.

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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