The content personalization space is starting to get pretty crowded. Last year saw the launch of personalized iPad magazine Flipboard, followed by the debut of the New York Times' News.me. Now the Washington Times is gearing up to launch it's newly revamped personalized content aggregator, Trove. So what makes Ali Davar believe his new personalized iPad magazine Zite, which launches Wednesday, will stand out from the rest? In simple terms, Zite is better, says Davar.
Zite actually got its start several years ago as a by-product of Worio, a sort of personalized search engine that focused on delivering contextually relevant search results based on the keywords entered. But Davar said that the problem with that company was the fact that it was limited to search. The technology was refined and eventually used to create Zite, a personalized digital magazine launching exclusively for the iPad (later on it will expand to other tablets, as well as smartphones and the Web).
Like most personalized content aggregators these days, Zite leverages the user's social layer to determine interests and deliver contextually relevant content. You create your own magazine by logging into Zite via Twitter or Google Reader, which provide the context the app needs to provide you with a list of interest categories that you can customize and add to. For example, my magazine draws from my interests in technology, social media, politics, and social/environmental activism, but Twitter doesn't know about my hidden passion for baking (I made cake pops last weekend!), so that's a category I can add if needed, but the point of Zite is to rethink the paradigm of content discovery to be less query-oriented and more push oriented.
As you read articles, you can continue to refine the personalization process by giving a thumbs up or thumbs down vote on each article (although the algorithm also considers what you don't click on when customizing the content for you). Over time the app will even begin to personalize your layout preferences, for example--if you prefer longer articles or short articles, etc.
So how is this magazine going to be fundamentally different from all of the other iPad magazines out there already? Specifically, how will it compete against Flipboard, which has received rave reviews since launching in 2010? The difference is that while Flipboard curates content that friends in your social graph are posting, Zite falls more in line with Pandora in that it delivers content based on your specific interests. In fact, at one point the company tested out Facebook integration, said Davar, and the results proved to be more noisy than helpful.
"The results weren't representative of users' interests," Davar told me over the phone.
But more importantly, said Davar, Zite's technology is superior. The content personalization space is growing increasingly crowded, so while Zite doesn't have the advantage of being the first on the scene, it does have the advantage of having better technology.
"I think personalization is easy to say and hard to do. We've been working on the technology for several years now and the end experience is really different," said Davar. "We wanted to be the first ones doing this in terms of personalizing content on the iPad. It's missing to the extent that it's done well," said Davar.
To date, the company has raised $4 million in angel funding and plans to launch right into its Series A round after debuting the product.