Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Apple iPad News Reader Zite Sold to CNN for Just Over $20 Million

Zite, the magazine-style reading app for the Apple iPad, has been sold to news giant CNN for $20 million to $25 million.

The arena for news readers on tablets and smartphones is competitive, with high-profile efforts such as Flipboard, Livestand from Yahoo, AOL’s Editions and start-ups such as Pulse and Zite.

The reason for CNN’s acquisition interest — as well as look-sees from several other publishers — is not a surprise: As readers turn more toward using these mobile devices to consume content, big media companies are trying to acquire the technology to serve up their fare to them.

It is a dicey arena, though, where content aggregation meets (and crashes into) content lifting. Vancouver-based Zite, for example, was sent a cease-and-desist letter in March, by a panoply of media companies (not CNN!) alleging various copyright violations.

That happened right after it was launched, with $4 million in funding from angel investors and Canadian grants and an innovative personalized article-picking algorithm.

As Liz Gannes wrote then:

[Then] 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.)

Last week, a Canadian site called Techvibes first wrote about the possibility of the sale of Zite to CNN, which is based in Atlanta and owned by Time Warner.

In a press release, CNN said Zite would remain a standalone unit, as a wholly-owned subsidiary of CNN, and that CEO Mark Johnson will continue to run Zite’s operations, but now in San Francisco. CNN also said that Davar will remain an executive director and Mike Klass will continue as CTO.

In a statement, Johnson said: “Zite is thrilled about combining forces with CNN to create a world-class news discovery platform. In CNN, we have found a partner who shares our vision and passion. Being part of the CNN family gives us the capital to grow Zite’s business and continue to innovate in the space.”

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google