Today personalized news app Trapit announced its new platform offering, and its first partnership with Malaysia-based media company Astro, which has 3.1 million customers in Malaysia alone, and has operations in TV, radio, mobile, and digital in Asia. The company’s news discovery apps for web and iPad were previously only targeted at consumers and publishers who wanted to promote their content in the apps. Today’s platform announcement turns the technology, which was born out of the CALO (Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes) research project and which also spawned Siri, into a product, allowing companies to build their own news discovery apps.
Trapit founder Hank Nothhaft Jr. said that while they’ve been focused on their consumer-facing apps since launching, the technology was always built to be a platform. Since launch, they’ve had inbound requests from publishers, enterprise social companies, and other companies that were looking to make use of its personalization and discovery engine. Astro, which Notthaft calls the “Comcast of Southeast Asia,” was one of those inquiries earlier this year. Along with today’s partnership announcement, the company is also announcing $1.9 million in strategic investment from Astro, the company’s first in a U.S.-based company, which is an extension of Trapit’s $6.2 million Series A funding in January 2012.
“What they’re looking to do is essentially bring a really differentiated personalization experience to their portfolio,” Nothhaft said in an interview. “What they’re looking for is a personalization framework that spans all those platforms and provides a unified experience…and then they’re also looking to develop a whole new suite of applications that are really powered by Trapit.”
This new platform launch means Trapit will be working with partners to make their core technology available to build personalization and discovery apps, either to enhance a company’s existing apps, or to build new ones. Partners will be able to draw on Trapit’s 140,000 news sources, use their own content, or use a mix of both. While traditionally Trapit has been focused on text, the platform supports multimedia content including video, audio, and images.
“We think we’ve built the best content discovery and personalization engine on the market, and it’s at this point that we feel comfortable now extending its capabilities to other companies and developers to build and power their own native experiences,” he said.
Right now they’re working with selected platform partners, and will eventually open it up to other companies. Nothhaft said the ideal partners will be publishers, enterprise software companies who want to create customized monitoring and research tools for their customers, and anyone who has “users and traffic.” “The use cases are broad, if there are users and content then Trapit probably applies and can probably enhance that experience,” he said.
Nothhaft said in terms of charging for the technology, they’ll work with partners on a case-by-case basis to find a model that fits, and eventually might settle on a transactional model. He also said this puts Trapit on “a path to profitability,” because they’ll be monetizing partner content. “There’s actually a real monetization for Trapit, which puts us in a position of strength compared to a lot of other companies in the space, which really only have the option of advertising,” he said. “The platform itself enables a lot of monetization opportunities outside of advertising, we will keep advertising in our back pocket just in case.”
The company launched its web version in November 2011 and its iPad app in July, and Nothhaft is quick to clarify that this “by no means signals a change in direction” for the company. He said they used the Trapit web and iPad apps to fine-tune the technology, and will continue to offer their branded apps. In terms of the funding, Nothhaft said they’ll use it to build out their platform team, including business development and sales staff, and to invest in R&D to enhance their technology. While they’ll focus on working with their pipeline of potential partners right now, they’ll eventually be reaching out to other media companies. “We want to find partners that are equipped to develop and launch and support these applications, and hopefully monetize them because we’ll share in that success.”
While Nothhaft couldn’t go into detail about what Astro’s Trapit-powered apps will look like, they will debut in early 2013. This personalization-as-a-service platform means that Trapit can finally look to monetize, much like news discovery apps Flipboard and Pulse have done in the past few months (through advertising and subscription-supported partnerships on their platform, not white labeled apps). If they can successfully show that their tech can power apps for the world’s largest media companies, the company could find their platform is a much bigger sell than their consumer-facing apps.