Kara Swisher

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MobileMobileMobile: Yahoo Eyes Hipster Teen-Founded Summly News App


When she’s not board-swapping, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has been scouring the landscape for trendy mobile “acqhires” to give the sleepy Silicon Valley Internet giant some sizzle.

And you can’t get more hot than Summly, the high-profile news reading app created by 17-year-old British app developer Nick D’Aloisio, who is perhaps the most telegenic geek to hit Silicon Valley in a long time.

According to several sources close to the situation, Yahoo is doing due diligence on the London-based company for a possible purchase, even as D’Aloisio and his partners have also been talking to a range of venture capitalists here about a new round of funding for it.

D’Aloisio — who looks like he could easily be a member of One Direction if this tech thing did not work out — is perhaps a perfect storm for Yahoo, which is seeking to show that it can attract innovative, young entrepreneurs to the company, while also looking to strengthen its nearly bare mobile cupboard.

Summly is all that and a bag of (fish and) chips, with a very slick app for the Apple iPhone that has become one of the more popular in the App Store since it was re-launched last month. The company has said it has been downloaded 500,000 times.

It deserves the attention, as it is a pleasure to use — think an even hipper version of Flipboard with some more sass. The handsomely designed app summarizes news stories — all using a natural language processing algorithm — in only a few sentences and in under 400 characters. Users can then swipe through topics and stories quickly and click in to be directed to the full story on the original news site.

Summly originally started as a prototype app called Trimmit, which soon garnered attention and seed funding from Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing’s investment firm. In no time, it had a range of other investors, ponying up about $1.5 million, including trendy ones like Ashton Kutcher and tech types like Zynga’s Mark Pincus, Automattic’s Matt Mullenweg and Airbnb’s Brian Chesky.

Since then, it has been striking content deals, including with News Corp. (which owns this site) and others, which seem to be attracted by its investor pedigree, its solid technology and — perhaps most of all — its media-darling founder.

That is right up Mayer’s alley, and sources at Yahoo said Summly’s D’Aloisio has held meetings with her in recent weeks, as she is on the hunt for mobile applications that will get the company back in the red hot center of the market.

While such meetings could lead nowhere — and there is no offer at the moment — it’s interesting to see where Mayer is leaning in her quest.

Until more summarized news on Summly, here’s a really clever video D’Aloisio did with actor Stephen Fry, who is also an investor in the start-up:

Summly Launch from Summly on Vimeo.

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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