Today personalized news app Prismatic is debuting a free iPhone app to bring their news discovery platform to mobile readers. The tool, which launched in private beta in April 2012 and to the public in June, is billed as a smart aggregator that learns as readers use it, and helps them discover and share news about their interests.
Prismatic co-founder Bradford Cross, who was previously the founder of FlightCaster, said the mobile experience was always the main goal of Prismatic, they just wanted to take their time building the app, and use the web platform as a way to get feedback on features. “The phone has been the focus of Prismatic the entire time,” he said in an interview. “When we started we knew from the beginning that the phone would be the central experience, and that’s exactly why Prismatic is a newsfeed.”
Cross said other news aggregation apps are typically designed for tablets and are organized in a grid layout, or a “Pinterest knockoff” layout, but Prismatic did a newsfeed because they’re starting on the phone. Cross said that with the iPhone app, the focus is on discovery. Both on iPhone and on the web, Prismatic presents news through a variety of feeds which provide different views into what’s going on in the world. Mobile users can sign up with Facebook, Twitter and Google Reader, and add topics based on their location, and add local publishers. Users can swipe left for a menu of all their feeds, including their home feed, which showcases news based on a user’s subscribed topics, and a global feed.
Each featured article outlines the publisher, author, title, and a synopsis. The web version also includes reactions from people on Twitter, and the number of times an article has been shared. Articles are also tagged with three topics, which users can follow to discover new feeds – tap on one and it shows all the articles tagged with that topic. While it acts as a beefed up RSS reader, the real goal of Prismatic is to learn what news readers find relevant so they can tailor articles to their tastes. In order to help the app learn what content to serve, users can swipe to classify an article as interesting or not relevant, and share it via email, or on Twitter and Facebook.
The company has raised $1.5 million in funding to date from Javelin Venture Partners and other investors. In terms of a business model, Cross told The New York Times in April that the company was making money from affiliate deals that come into play when people purchase a product featured in a news story, for example, and Cross said they’ll continue on to direct selling. He said they’re exploring other revenue models, and are in talks with publishers at the moment, though they haven’t launched any partnerships. “We’ve earned the trust of a lot of users, and they expect us to find them interesting things, and they won’t allow us to show them crappy ads, so the real key is that whatever we do, it has to be something that’s actionable and something that’s really interesting to them,” he said.
Cross said that while the iPhone app is the focus right now, they will be revamping their web presence, building an iPad app, and launching for Android, but he said they’ll be taking their time like they did with the iPhone. “Platforms are distribution strategies now, and so different platforms are different channels for us, and we love all of them,” he said. They will also be fleshing out their Facebook integration – right now users can sign in with Facebook, but they can’t view status updates from friends, which Cross said doesn’t give them social context. Cross said they’ll also be adding more topics to the tool (there are currently 200,000 available to choose from), adding more local features for mobile users, and adding more options for commenting, liking, saving, and sharing articles.
The web and mobile apps have an intuitive interface – it’s easy to add and delete feeds, to see articles that have already been viewed, and to help the app learn about preferred content. A cross between a daily summary tool like News.me and a traditional aggregator, Prismatic could fill the void in providing a personalized, relevant, topic-based, socially-curated news feed. But it will have to compete with the numerous other news discovery apps, including TrapIt and mobile readers like Pulse. But it’s yet another tool publishers should pay attention to – as smart news readers gain users, they’ll have to rethink how to get their news in the feeds of readers everywhere.