Recently CNN bought Zite. Here we talk with Zite’s CEO, to find out what’s going on in this hot category and how Zite differs from the other players in the field.
There are a host of different applications that are available to help us organize and consume the content we receive on our mobile devices. Zite is one such product, and it’s quickly becoming one of the hottest and most talked about apps on the market.
“One thing that people don’t know about Zite,” explains Mark Johnson, CEO of Zite, “is that we’re almost six years old as a company, so we’ve been developing technology for all this time…so it turns out there’s a lot of great technology under the hood that allows us to figure out exactly the kinds of things you like to read and give you more of it. I think that in this world of news clutter, people don’t just want another app that’s a veneer over the RSS feeds that they’ve had in the past. They want something that is really tailored towards them.”
Zite, currently available for the iPad, personalizes the news you receive in a number of different ways. It can tap into your Google Reader or Twitter feed to see the links you and your friends share. It can display articles based on the subjects you choose from over 5,000 categories. You can give each article a thumbs up or thumbs down. And you can click on key words within articles to indicate a preference to receive more content with a similar subject matter. Each time you read an article on Zite, it learns more about your interests.
“One of the things I like to do every week,” says Johnson, “is I add a new topic on Zite that I don’t know anything about…It’s just fun to pick something that’s current and say, ‘Huh, I’m going to learn something new.’ It’s sort of like your search vs. sift thing. It’s like, ‘show me an interesting stream of information about topic X.’ That’s much different than just seeing a few web results.”
Whereas the offline world uses human editors to determine which news items are most important and deserve the most prominent placement, Zite uses algorithms that take into account your preferences as well as the buzz around each story to create the layout of pages. The more you use the app, the more customized it becomes, but Zite hopes it will prove useful right from the beginning.
“When a person first comes into the application,” explains Johnson, “you want to give them a really interesting stream of information. So one of the most important things we do at Zite is to determine the interestingness of an article and what category it falls into, so even if you’ve never personalized Zite before and we don’t know a thing about you, if you choose something like art or architecture, we should be able to give you lots of interesting articles that will allow you to start interacting with the system so we learn the kinds of things that you like.”
This article and video were printed with permission from Building 43.
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