This article was published on November 1, 2012

News curator Summly launches to help simplify the way we consume news on mobile devices

News curator Summly launches to help simplify the way we consume news on mobile devices
Ken Yeung
Story by

Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a reporter for The Next Web based in San Francisco, CA. He carries around a big camera & likes to write about tech, startup Ken Yeung is a reporter for The Next Web based in San Francisco, CA. He carries around a big camera & likes to write about tech, startups, parties, and interesting people. Follow him on Twitter, on Facebook, and Google+.

The way we consume news has changed. People are using their mobile devices to keep up to date about world and local events, but what hasn’t changed is how they read it. Summly aims to fix that through simple browsing and condensed summaries from news outlets to get the point across and quickly allow you to digest what’s happening in the world.

Started as a result of an earlier prototype of a web summarization application, Summly is a free iPhone program that has a back-end that will automatically determine what the relevant facts of a story are and convert it into consumable bites of information (aka short summaries) to give you just enough to know what’s going on. The company was started by Nick D’Aloisio, a 16-year-old founder who some believe to be the youngest person in the world to raise venture capital.

Summly screenshot

Today, Summly launches to the world and anyone can download it for free. All the content on the screen is formatted specifically for the respective device and you won’t have to scroll through multiple screens to get the summary — just tap and read. Through a partnership with investors, advisors, and the Stanford Research Institute, this startup is said to try and make content relevant, not personalized. D’Aloisio believes that news needs to go beyond the step of customization and personalization — the medium needs to fundamentally change.

When you first open Summly, you will find that there isn’t much there. You have the option of creating channels from pre-determined news topics (e.g. sports, business, fashion and style, election 2012, etc.) and personal filters (specific topics like “Hurricane Sandy” or “Olympics”, etc.). The pre-determined topics are sourced from at least 300 English-speaking feeds while the news stories under the personal filters are generated through the Microsoft Bing API. Not all articles on the Internet will be imported into the app — it only pulls a handful of them in for consumption.

Standard Apple device gestures are integrated into this application to allow you to move forward or back, view additional options, and much more. Articles can also be shared through email, SMS, Facebook, and Twitter.

Once you’ve set up all your pre-determined news topics and personal filters, you can set them and watch it update. It’s almost like you have Flipboard, except this isn’t pulling from your social feed…yet. The pre-determined feed refreshes every 30 minutes while the personal filters will refresh every 3 hours.

D’Aloisio tells us that the company is focused on building the best product experience. He says it’s designed for the mobile generation because there is a market for an app that benefits anyone who loves reading news on the go. When he was younger, D’Aloisio says that he didn’t understand why things couldn’t be summarized easily — in fact, he hadn’t even seen the boundaries of what’s possible, so now, why not make news summarization fun and playful?

If you’re thinking that Summly is just a copycat of Flipboard or even Circa, it’s understandable why you would draw that conclusion. The swiping and the interactive elements does mimic what you would find on Flipboard and the summarization is what you would find with Circa. But D’Aloisio adamantly says that he’s not copying them — in fact, he doesn’t even see them as competitors because he’s not trying to recreate content with an editorial staff like Circa. His algorithm is focused on taking existing content and summarizing it. No human work is required to publish a summary article on the app.

Summly has raised over $1 million in seed funding from numerous investors, including Horizons Ventures, Ashton Kutcher, Betaworks, Airbnb’s Brian Chesky, Hosain Rahman, Joanna Shields, Josh Kushner, Zynga’s Mark Pincus, WordPress’s Matt Mullenweg, Stephen Fry, Troy Carter, Yoko Ono, and many others.

➤ Summly

Photo credit: DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images

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