Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Who’s About to Acquire News Reading App Pulse? Try an Unlikely New Content Powerhouse: LinkedIn.


According to several sources close to the situation, the nifty news reading app Pulse is in advanced talks to be acquired by a major “platform” company.

I’ve been trying to track down who among many suitors who have looked at acquiring the mobile-focused startup that allows a user to read content from a variety of online sources, narrowing the field down to a handful.

Several sources have told me that Microsoft and Yahoo have been engaged in talks with the startup, which currently claims it has 20 million users from across the globe, who read more than 10 million stories a day. But a range of other possible acquirers is long — from Facebook (unlikely) to Gannett (likely too pricey) to Amazon (interesting!).

But sources close to the situation tell me that the winner for Pulse is likely to be one that has emerged as a content powerhouse of late: LinkedIn. The business networking site has been aggressively adding a range of very impressive content to its fast-growing repertoire. In addition, CEO Jeff Weiner, who used to run content offerings at Yahoo, knows a thing or two about the arena and — if I might be familiar — this is just like him. Lastly, the stock has performed strongly, and it’s in a good position to shop.

Sources told me that the deal is nearly complete and could be announced this week, although it could take several weeks to close. As with all these kinds of things, there is a possibility that any such acquisition efforts could falter, but sources said the acquisition effort by LinkedIn is quite serious.

It makes sense. The Pulse app — which competes with services such as Flipboard, Summly, Prismatic, Circa and Zite — is offered for the Apple iPhone and iPad, Google Android devices and, most recently, the Web. Content publishers that appear on its service in a variety of categories include BBC News, TMZ and Sports Illustrated, as well as AllThingsD.

The San Francisco-based company has raised close to $10 milion from Redpoint Ventures, Greycroft Partners, Mayfield Fund, Lightspeed Investment Partners, New Enterprise Associates and Lerer Ventures.

The sale of Pulse is perhaps not surprising, given that Zite was sold to CNN in 2011 for about $20 million. But others, such as the heavily funded Flipboard, have remained independent. All are vying to attract consumers to their aggregation apps, and aiming to sell advertising against the audience, which they then share with publishers.

Big companies have also entered the game, but with much less success. AOL created an offering called Editions, while Google tried with Currents. Perhaps most prominently, Yahoo launched and then scuttled its Livestand app.

But CEO Marissa Mayer has taken a new look at the space in an effort to improve Yahoo’s mobile offerings, initiating talks with Summly and also Pulse.

So, too, Microsoft, which has worked closely with Pulse recently on its “tiles of content” strategy for its Windows Mobile effort. As reported by Liz Gannes in August, the startup was helped by the software giant in a new Web version that looks more like an app than a site, with a tiled, full-screen, image-heavy layout that looks very good on the recent Windows Surface tablets. The Web Pulse also displays an Internet Explorer icon in the top right corner, even when used in other browsers.

But LinkedIn emerged as an interesting alternative, given its efforts to round out the service with more content to help move it beyond a site aimed at resumes and networking. And, in fact, its content is really quite good, with a range of original posts by prominent figures across the spectrum.

Also on the fast track at Pulse, which makes it attractive to LinkedIn, has been its new Highlights feature, which is an effort to put more social cues into the service that coordinates with Facebook accounts. The app has also recently added integration with Instagram, Flickr, YouTube and Tumblr, too.

Pulse was developed by Alphonso Labs, the brainchild of Stanford University grad students Akshay Kothari and Ankit Gupta. They got their big break in 2010, when Pulse was called out by name for excellence at a developers conference by the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, only hours before the company had to temporarily stop offering its service to users, due to objections to its aggregation efforts by the New York Times.

I have calls for comment into all the interested parties — including the usually responsive Kothari — which I will update when I hear back.

Until then, here’s a video interview I did with the pair at the time, as well as another one I did in 2011:

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